Although it is only the end of March and there may still be snow yet to come, spring is still definitely in the air.
And nowhere will that be more evident than in Cut Bank on Saturday morning when the 2004 Montana High School track and field season kicks off for the Havre Blue Ponies with the Cut Bank Time Trials.
The Ponies enter the 2004 season under the direction of co-head coaches Mark West and Troy Purcell. The duo took over for former head coach John Ita this season. The hurdlers and jumpers will also have a new coach this season in former Havre High and University of Montana standout Justin Morse.
But coaches will not be the only new faces around the track this season at Havre High.
The Blue Pony boys team, which finished second at the Class A state meet in 2003, suffered heavy losses to graduation.
Among the notables that are gone from HHS this season is Steve Heberly, who shattered the state 100 meters record in Missoula last year and captured three individual titles on his way to capping off a glorious sprinting career.
While Heberly is now competing at Montana State, he leaves a young but talented group of boys to try to keep Havre High among the elite track teams in Class A.
The Blue Ponies return talented junior Scott Robinson as well as a trio of very good distance runners in Casey Barsotti, Jeff Sprinkle and Anthony Bonavida.
Bonavida and Grant Newens are also expected to pace the Ponies in the jumps this season. As far as the sprints go, things are up in the air at this point, but West is excited about the potential of freshmen Nate Harada. Havre will also once again be inexperienced in the throws.
"We are definitely not as experienced in most areas as we were last season," West said. "But we have a really good core group of young kids who have the potential to make a big impact for us later in the season."
On the girls' side of things, Havre is coming off of a stronger than expected showing at last year's state meet. The Ponies return a talented pair of sprinters in Riley O'Connell and Alexa Lipp as well as a very versatile senior in Kelsey Smith, who will run sprints and relays as well as compete in the long jump for the Ponies.
The Ponies are also expected to be strong in the distances and West believes that they could have some strong throwers in Liz Handy and Lena Suek.
"Really for both teams right now, it is kind of early to tell what we have and who is going to score for us," West said. "We have 80 kids out for track this season and some very good young kids on both teams.
"But we'll just have to wait a few weeks to really see how things shape up for us because there are a lot of other things going on right now."
As for this weekend, West and Purcell will be without several key kids on both sides due to other obligations. West sees this first meet of the year as a way to get his team's feet wet and get back into competition form. Among the teams that will be in Cut Bank on Saturday will be Browning, Conrad, Shelby and the host Wolves.
"I think the potential is there for us on both sides," West said. "It will take a while for us to really get going, but we are excited about what we have out this season. Things look pretty good if they come together for us and some young kids step up."
The Cut Bank Time trials will get under way Saturday morning at the Cut Bank High School athletic complex.