Preview of Preparatory Sports — Fall 2022

Much of the attention in fall sports is devoted to the football pitch (see next week’s football preview), but four other sports kicked off their seasons last week, each with talented athletes, strong team legacies and high expectations for the year.

Behind the Whitefish Bulldogs’ four-game winning streak, the Flathead Valley has some of the strongest football teams in the state and looks set to continue that tradition this fall. Several local distance runners will be aiming for podium finishes at the state meet in October, and golf teams across the valley have gone strong. Additionally, a new sport, flag football, will take the field for a shortened inaugural season. Here’s a look at some storylines to pay attention to this fall.

SOCCER

The Whitefish boys haven’t lost a football game since 2017, making them the de facto favorites to win the Class A state title for an unprecedented fifth straight year, making them the top dynasty in football. of State.

The Bulldogs have lost 10 seniors – five of whom were all-state winners – including Gabe Menicke who scored a state-leading 27 goals last season. Junior Collin Lyman scored eight goals last year and will look to fill the void left by Menicke. Sophomore Preston McPherson and junior Charlie Hyatt will join Lyman to lead the Bulldogs on the field, while Ethan Schott will take over as goalkeeper, replacing Will Peppmeier, whose last second stoppage gave the Bulldogs their state title last year.

In line with trainer John Lacey’s strategy of playing deep in his lineup, the roster includes 21 subclasses who will be on hand to watch the program’s success and fuel his future runs.

As the ultimate rival team, Columbia Falls has faced the Bulldogs in the last two State Finals and fired 10 of 11 starters. The talented team will be led by Kai Golan – the state’s top returning scorer – along with Finley Sundberg, Dale Blickhan and Ethan Austin. Golan, Blickhan and Sundberg have 46 goals and 44 assists among them and the Wildcats are hoping to return to the National Finals.

Ryder Elliot of the Whitefish Bulldogs lines up for a shot during the State Championship football game against the Columbia Falls Wildcats in Whitefish on October 30, 2021. The Bulldogs won 3-2. Antuono Hunter | flathead beacon

On the girls’ side, Columbia Falls, Whitefish and Bigfork are looking to build on their state tournament appearances in 2021, where Whitefish and Bigfork fell in their respective semifinals.

Whitefish will be led by juniors Olivia Genovese and Isabelle Cooke, both returning to all conference selections, backed by several talented sophomore forwards. Columbia Falls loses top offensive player Maddie Robison but will have junior Hope McAtee in charge of the Wildkats. McAtee is one of the state’s all-time leaders in assists. The Bigfork trio of Scout Nadeau, Danika Bucklin and Braeden Gunlock will keep the Valkyries in the mix.

Just two seasons away from the program’s first state championship, Glacier’s women’s team is looking to take off under sophomore head coach Damien Blackburn.

The Wolfpack are returning four players from all conferences, including junior Reagan Brisendine, who led the team with 12 goals last year. Calista Wroble and Emmery Schmidt will help in attack as the Wolfpack look to return to the domestic final.

On the boys’ side, the Wolfpack hope to match or even surpass last year’s success, which culminated in a state final against six-time state champion Hellgate. The Wolfpack painfully left the pitch with a 1-0 loss after a game that nearly ended in a shootout. The team graduated 11 seniors, but coach Ryan Billiet won’t call it a rebuilding year. Talented seniors including Harrison Sanders, Davis Rennie and junior Hunter Lisowski will keep the traditions strong.

In Flathead, the Braves and Bravettes will be entering new head coaches. Alejandro Calderon will take over as the boys’ head coach after spending five years as a junior varsity coach. Meanwhile, Zach Brenneman is focusing on the varsity girls team after Bledy Doda resigned this spring.

The Braves finished last season 1-13-0 and only have an upward trajectory in mind while the Bravettes 3-9-2 record also has room to improve. The Bravettes will benefit from a strong contingent of upper class men who will maintain the continuity of the team throughout the transition.

GOLF

The first sport to begin competition each fall is golf, with Class AA kicking off the season with both invites already complete. The Glacier boys were the winners of the Great Falls Invite led by junior Tyler Avery who put up one of the best second-place performances in Montana history with innings 69-68 to fall by just two strokes. Avery has finished in the top 10 in his previous appearances in the state. The Glacier girls also had a second-place finish by Chloe Tanner (79-80), who finished fifth in the state last year.

After two second-place finishes, Whitefish senior Billy Smith is looking for his own individual title this year. Whitefish won the tag team title in 2020 and finished second last year and will also be returning senior Johnny Nix (9th).

Tyler Avery of Glacier High School competes in the Kalispell Invitational at Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell on September 17, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | flathead beacon

CROSS COUNTRY

The Flathead Bravettes enter the cross country season with a strong team that will threaten the Class AA podium. The varsity team only graduated one senior last year and a strong underclass team is chomping at the bit to prove themselves. Junior Lilli Rumsey Eash, fourth last year, is the top returner in the state and has a path to the individual title. Rumsey Eash finished 42 seconds ahead of the next runner in last October’s state meet, giving him some buffer to hold off any newcomer to the county scene. Behind her, Madelaine Jellison (14th), Josie Wilson (26th) and Afton Write (48th) will be strong contenders to bring down the score of the Bravettes team. The Flathead men’s team only fires two varsity members, Bauer Hollman (37) and Reilly Johnson (38).

Across the city, both Wolfpack teams will field young squads. Third-year head coach Cody Moore expressed confidence the teams are the strongest he’s worked with so far. The women’s team will feature several track and field athletes racing their first cross country season, including sophomores Alyssa Vollertsen and Carmen Eddy. Rounding out the Wolfpack frontrunners is Anna Tretter, another sophomore.

In Class A, Columbia Falls just won the program’s first girls’ tag team title and returns with a strong team. Individual state champion Hannah Sempf graduated, but Siri Erickson will be on hand to provide the Wildkats’ low stick. Behind her, Courtney Hoerner (18th), Marissa Schaeffer (32nd) and Ally Sempf (62nd) will try to hold off a Corvallis side that fires all the scorers from last year’s finalist team.

In Class A boys, Whitefish’s Mason Genovese will be the second-quickest comeback this year after finishing 6th last fall, but will be challenged by junior teammate Deneb Linton who did not compete in State but was the Bulldog’s No. 1 all-season runner. That 1-2 punch could be enough to put the Bulldogs on the podium, especially since last year’s top teams lost many of their killer runners.

In Class B, Bigfork sophomore coach Ryan Nollan will see if her small roster of athletes can repeat themselves as state champions. Junior Jack Jensen will be aiming to win the individual title after finishing third last year behind two seniors.

Bigfork runner Jack Jensen on November 10, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | flathead beacon

VOLLEYBALL

Volleyball tournament action will once again return to Montana State University’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse this fall.

Glacier High School’s new volleyball head coach, Courtney Baker, aims to keep the Wolfpack on an upward trajectory after missing the state tournament in 2019. Last season, the Wolfpack lost a first-round game against eventual finalist Billings West. The Wolfpack is returning three players from all conferences, including all state honored players Maddie Frazier.

Across town, the Flathead Bravettes haven’t reached the state podium since 2012, but third-year coach Emily Russell is trophy-hungry after being a member of the 2012 runner-up team and made great strides with the program. In 2021, the Bravettes were 14-10, making one appearance in a Class AA state tournament. All conference seniors Akilah Kubi and Cyan Moody will provide leadership to the team.

In Class A, Columbia Falls will be looking to rebound from a slack year in 2021 where the Wildkats failed to qualify for the state tournament. The Wildkats are just six years away from back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016 and lost a close state title game to Billings Central in 2020. Last year, Whitefish were 2-8 in conference and missed a state tournament berth for the third straight year and graduated six seniors.

FLAG FOOTBALL

In the spring of 2021, the Montana High School Association announced a women’s flag football pilot program. The inaugural season will consist of three teams and will continue through October 1 with a championship tournament in Missoula. Glacier and Flathead High Schools will form teams creating a strong immediate rivalry.

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