There’s never a shortage of great sports moments when it comes to Havre and the Hi-Line. And 2012 lived up to all the years that came before it.
From magical moments in basketball and volleyball at MSU-Northern, to local state championships in wrestling, soccer and track and field, it was another big year for team sports in the area.
Individually, there were triumphs across the board, from wrestling glory, to game-winning touchdowns, to shattered records in football at Northern and Havre High, 2012 was another one for the record books.
Here's a look at the top local sports stories for 2012
1. Lights repeat
Winning one Frontier Conference championship was hard enough. But the Montana State University-Northern men’s basketball team did it again in 2012. The Lights steam-rolled their way to 29 wins in the 2011-12 season, and tied UM-Western for the Frontier Conference regular-season title. And after two convincing wins in the
Frontier playoffs, the Lights toppled UM-Western 61-56 on March 5 in front of a sold-out crowd at the Armory Gymnasium, capturing its second straight Frontier postseason championship. The Lights also advanced to their third NAIA national tournament in the last four seasons, and saw four players named Frontier All-Conference in what turned out to be one of the most exciting season’s in Northern men’s basketball history.
2. History for Chinook’s Stroh
On a magical night in February, Chinook senior wrestler Ben Stroh reached a historic milestone by becoming just the 20th wrestler in Montana prep history to win four consecutive state championships. Stroh pinned teammate Rob Klingaman in :39 to win the Class B-C 189-pound state title in front of 7,000-plus fans at the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, capping off one of the most dominant prep careers in Hi-Line history. Stroh’s win in his final match was also his national-record setting 101st win by pin, and gave him a winning streak dating back to December of his freshman season. Stroh now wrestles for the University of Wyoming.
3. Skylights reach title match
The MSU-Northern volleyball team made plenty of history of its own this fall. And while fourth-year head coach Bill Huebsch’s team put together an outstanding regular season, one in which the Skylights finished tied for third in the Frontier with a 10-6 record and won 18 overall matches, the postseason is where they really made magic happen. At the Frontier tournament in Butte back in November, MSU-N ran off dominating wins over Montana Tech and top-seeded Lewis-Clark State to reach the championship match for the first time in over a decade. In the title tilt, Northern and Carroll College waged an epic battle with the Saints outlasting MSU-N 16-14 in the decisive set. But even with a heartbreaking loss that left the Skylights just two points from an NAIA national tournament berth, the run they put together that weekend in Butte capped off an amazing turnaround for a program which had fallen on very hard times less than five years ago.
4. Mariani out for the season
Not all of the top stories from 2012 were happy ones. And that was the case for former Havre High star Marc Mariani. In a preseason game back in August, Mariani suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula, which ended his third season with the Tennessee Titans before it really began. Mariani broke his leg on a first-quarter punt return during an Aug. 23 preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals at Nashville’s LP Field. The game was being broadcast nationally on ESPN Monday Night Football.
5. Hinebauch a 4X All-American
MSU-Northern standout wrestler Evan Hinebauch wanted nothing more than to repeat as an NAIA national champion heading into the 2012 NAIA national tournament last March in Des Moines, Iowa. It didn’t work out that way as Hinebauch was upset before reaching the 184-pound championship match. Still, the former Havre High three-time Class A state champion showed heart and character by shaking off the loss and rebounding to finish in third place. The finish saw Hinebauch become just the fifth Northern wrestler to earn All-American four times in the storied history of the program.
6. Big Sandy goes to state
The Big Sandy Pioneers made a great run on the gridiron in 2012. The Pioneers tied for the Northern Six-Man regular-season championship, then won three playoff games to reach the Six-Man state championship game. The Pioneers were defeated by Hot Springs in the title game back on Nov. 17, but the ride was magical none-the-less. Big Sandy beat rival Valier on a TD pass from Trevor Lackner to Jessey Bailey in overtime of the Six-Man semifinals on a snowy and frigid say in Big Sandy, and that win came one week after the Pioneers had to out-last Westby-Grenora in a wild quarterfinal shoot out in North Dakota. The ride to the championship game capped off a great three-year stretch for the Pioneers in which they won three straight Northern Division titles and reached the semifinals or better in all three seasons.
7. North Star girl’s track triumph
The weather for the Class C state track and field championships last May in Butte wasn’t ideal, but it mattered little to the North Star Knights. The Knights scored 63 points to capture the school’s first state championship since KG and Blue Sky consolidated. Head coach Brian Campbell’s Knights, behind a total team effort, including a state title in the triple jump, and second-place finishes from Haylee Anderson (100, 200) and Lisa Carlon (long jump), as well as scoring from the likes of Tylynn Rettig, Shelby Lipp and Delainey Spicher, easily blew away the field in Butte as second-place Charlo scored just 49 points.
8. Wrestling hardware in Billings
On the same February night in Billings, both the Havre and Chinook wrestling team’s kept remarkable streaks going. The Blue Ponies finished the Class A state tournament with 192.5 points to finish third behind Corvallis and Laurel,
earning yet another trophy under legendary head coach Scott Filius. The Ponies got state championships from seniors Eli Hinebauch (152) and Casey Schaub (189) and finished in the top three in the team competition for the ninth straight season. Meanwhile, the Sugarbeeters claimed their fourth straight Class C state title at the 2012 Montana All-Class State Tournament, scoring 98.5 points to edge Cascade for the title. Ben Stroh and Jorrell Jones captured state championships and a combined perfect season for Perry Miller’s Beeters.
9. United win gold again
For the second straight season, the Hi-Line United U19 soccer team was the best in Montana. The United captured its second straight U19 Classic Division state championship by beating the Big Timber Wolves in the championship match back in June in Great Falls. The United defeated the Wolves 4-4 with a 4-1 win on penalty kicks.
10. Box Elder near perfect
It was a truly great season for the Box Elder girls basketball team. The Bears won 23 straight games in 2011-12 and captured the District 9C title last February in Havre. The run included a perfect 18-0 regular season and a 10-0 record in 9C play. Box Elder ran its record to 23-0 before finally losing to Belt in the Northern C championship game. The Bears’ season ended two nights later in a Northern C challenge game loss to Winnett-Grass Range, but with a record of 23-2, it was one of the most dominant season’s in Box Elder history.
• The Havre High girls basketball team’s run to the 2012 Class A state tournament included a coveted Central A championship. The Ponies defeated Belgrade 50-40 for the Central A title last February in Great Falls.
• The MSU-N women’s basketball team had a remarkable turnaround in 2011-12. After suffering through a losing season the year before, the Skylights went 21-9 a season ago, reaching the Frontier Conference semifinals.
• Havre High senior tennis player Justin Jensen went out a winner. Jensen won four matches on the second day of the Class A state tennis tournament in Great Falls to finish third in boys singles.
• The Armory Gymnasium got a big face-lift this summer. A brand new floor and new seating was just part of stunning renovations in the gym, which re-opened this fall.
• The Big Sandy boys basketball team reached the Northern C championship game last February in Great Falls, losing to Highwood. Still, the Pioneers advanced to yet another Class C state tournament under head coach Roy Lackner.
• With 2012 nearly over, the MSU-Northern wrestling team pulled off a dramatic comeback win over rival UGF last month in Havre. The Lights trailed the Argos in the dual 16-6, but rallied to win 21-20. It was Northern's second straight win over UGF in the Armory Gymnasium. The Lights finish 2012 ranked No. 4 in the NAIA and are poised for an even bigger run on the mat during 2013.