A look back at 2016 sports stories in Central Montana
Although there was only one Central Montana team to win a state championship during 2016, several Central Montana athletes earned gold at the state level. But this year’s top story is about two young athletes who competed at a national and regional level. The two boys reached heights that no other Central Montana athlete had ever accomplished.
1. Barta, Morris compete in football
Freshman Kendall Barta is on his way to the Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida, at the end of January. Barta earned a trip to the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition after winning his age group at the Denver Bronco team competition and placing in the top four against the 32 other team competition winners. Barta is the first athlete to represent Central Montana at the national competition.
In order to qualify for nationals, Barta won the local competition and then the sectional competition, both held here in Lewistown. He had one of the top scores in the state so he won a trip to Denver to compete in the team competition. After winning the team competition in Denver, Barta had to wait to see if he had one of the top four scores against the other 32 team winners.
Elias Morris also competes in football, although in the United States we call it soccer. Morris will be in sunny Phoenix, Arizona this week competing on the Montana State U12 soccer team in the Region Four Olympic Development Program. He is the first athlete from Central Montana to compete at this level.
Morris will play goalie for the Montana team, as the squad plays teams from Arizona, California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Alaska, Utah, Nevada and Montana. Morris began earning his way onto the state of Montana team with a tryout in Billings in September. He earned his way onto the U12 team after attending the state combine in Helena.
Morris is one of 25 players from his age group that were selected to be on the U12 Montana team. Only 15 of those players will be attending the Region Four Tournament in Phoenix this week.
Both Barta and Morris gave credit to their families and coaches to help them improve their skills. Barta said his freshman football coach Orin Johnson helped him immensely during the football season, while Morris credited Charles Cloud, a sixth-grade teacher at Lewis and Clark Elementary for helping him.
2. Wickens holds 12 Montana Federation state records
To say that multi-talented Alex Irish is an extraordinary swimmer for the Lewistown Seas Lions may just be an understatement. When Wickens concluded his Sea Lion swimming competition at the Montana Federation State Meet in Hamilton in August, Irish became the holder of 12 state records in swimming. He started setting state records as a 13-year old and continued his assault on the state records when he competed in the men’s 15- to 19-year-old age group. Even more exciting for Sea Lion spectators is the fact that Wickens still has two more years to swim as a Sea Lion.
This year Wickens went undefeated in every individual event he competed in at each and every meet. He also won a high-point trophy for his age group at every meet he competed in. At the state meet in Hamilton, Wickens not only won all three of his individual events, but he also set state records in each event.
3. Girls’ golf team brings home first-ever state trophy
For the first time in the history of girls’ golf at Fergus High School, the team of Annie Franz, Abby Gremaux, Madison Lewis, Kinsey Irvin and Val Kolstad brought home a trophy from the Class A State Tournament, held in Hamilton this year. The golfers finished third at state, with Irvin and Gremaux earning all-state honors by finishing in the top 15 at the state tournament. Irvin, a junior, was second at state this year when she carded a two-day total of 166, 22 strokes better than her score of 188 at last-year’s state meet, where she finished 11th. Gremaux, also a junior, had a two-day score of 185 this year to finish 10th individually. Lewis, a senior, was the third scoring member of the team with a 209. Kolstad, a junior and in her first year of competing in golf, carded a two-day total of 228 to complete the team scoring.
4. Winnett-Melstone repeat as girls’ cross-country state champions
Behind the running of Winnett’s Kita Weingart and Melstone’s BreElle Wacker, the Runnin’ Rams repeated as Class C girls’ state champions in cross-country. Weingart was the second girl to cross the finish line in the Class C girls’ competition, while Wacker finished fourth. The third scoring member of the Runnin’ Rams was Melstone foreign exchange student Francis Johne. She finished 15th overall. All three of the Runnin’ Rams earned all-state honors by finishing in the top 15 at the state meet.
This year’s state meet was held at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell. The Farm is an equestrian center, and everyone commented on how nice it was to run there.
5. Fergus boys’ cross-country team brings home state trophy
For the second consecutive year, the Fergus boys’ cross-country team brought home a trophy from the Class A Meet, which was held at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell. In 2015, the team finished second at the state meet, which was held in Great Falls. This year, even though several of the names had changed, the team finished third.
Junior Noah Majerus led this year’s team by finishing sixth overall with a personal best time of 16:08.57. The second Golden Eagle to cross the finish line was freshman Sam Fulbright. Fulbright, competing in his first state competition was 14th overall with a personal best time of 16:19.81. Both Golden Eagles won all-state honors by finishing in the top 15 at the state meet.
Senior Drake Henson was the third Golden Eagle to cross the finish line. Henson finished in 22nd place. Close behind Henson was senior Kai Krumweide, who finished 24th with a personal best time of 16:43.18. Freshman Ryker Melton completed the scoring for the Fergus squad. Melton’s time of 17:04.59 was the third fastest freshman time in the boys’ competition. He finished 36th overall.
6. Weeden named Junior Olympic ‘Athlete of the Year’
Carson Weeden, as an eighth-grader on the Lewistown Junior High track and field team, fell in love with the pole vault event, although he competed in it only twice during the school year. In his second competition of the year, at Lewistown’s home meet in the spring, Weeden tied the 30-year old LJHS record set by Matt Woody at 10 feet.
Weeden then began looking for pole vaulting camps he could attend during the summer to become a better vaulter in high school. While looking on the internet, Weeden found out about the U. S. Track and Field Junior Olympics.
He competed at the state Junior Olympics in Butte in early June. Weeden took first in the pole vault and second in the high jump, triple jump and long jump at the state meet.
Next, Weeden competed at the USATF Region 11 Championships in Bozeman on June 25. Despite competing with an injured back, Weeden took second in the pole vault, second in the high jump, and fifth in the triple jump.
His placings in the pole vault and high jump earned Weeden a chance to compete at the national meet in California. He decided to not compete this year but hopes to qualify again next summer and then compete at the national level.
In early September, Weeden learned he had been nominated for male track athlete of the year for Montana Junior Olympics in the 15- and 16-year-old age division. He won the award and received it at a banquet in Butte on Sept. 25.
7. Mane and Collins earn gold at state track
Fergus senior Jaree Mane and junior Haiden Collins earned gold medals at the Class A State Track and Field championships held in Bozeman the last weekend in May. Mane overcame knee surgery for a torn ACL to compete well on the track for the Golden Eagles. She earned first-place wins in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes. A photo finish in the 100 gave Mane gold by a mere 0.01 seconds. She took gold in the 200 by 0.4 seconds.
Collins had flown under the radar for the Golden Eagles for much of his track career at Fergus. In previous years, Collins had competed in the shadows of sprinter Brock Butcher and hurdler James Derheim. During the 2016 track season, he had missed most all of the first part of the season with an injury.
Making up for lost time at the divisional meet, Collins won both hurdle races and placed in the 200 and 400.
At state, Collins became a state champion when he won the 300-meter hurdles by 0.04 seconds. His personal best time of 39.46 seconds in the 300 hurdles was the first time Collins ran under 40 seconds in the race. Collins was nosed out for a second gold when he finished second in the 100-meter hurdles.
8. Fergus wrestlers place at state
At the 2016 Class A State Wrestling Tournament in Billings, five Fergus wrestlers placed to help the Golden Eagles finish seventh against the 20 Class A teams. Three Fergus wrestlers, Wyatt Blythe, Alex Wickens and Caleb Birdwell, wrestled in their championship bout in their weight classes, but all three came up just short of winning the ultimate goal – a state championship.
Chad Landers finished fourth at state and Bridger Grover was sixth in his weight class. A total of nine FHS wrestlers had qualified for the state tournament. The good news for Fergus wrestling fans is Blythe, Wickens, Birdwell and Grover were all sophomores in 2016. Baring injuries they could do even better in 2017. FHS Coach Brendon DeCock was pleased with how well the Golden Eagles competed in 2016, but is pushing them to win a trophy at the state tournament by finishing as a team in first, second or third.
9. Fergus softball team make deep run into state tournament
The Golden Eagle fast-pitch softball team made history by going the furthest at the state tournament of any team in the short history of Fergus softball. In 2015, the team was denied a chance to compete at state when rain shortened the divisional tournament here in Lewistown, and Fergus was not in one of the top three spots to move on to state.
In 2016 the divisional tournament was again rained out, but this time Fergus had been the conference runner-up during the regular season and qualified for the state tournament as a second seed out of the Central A Division.
In their first game at the state tournament, the Golden Eagles defeated Miles City, 10-6. That advanced Fergus to a quarterfinal game against Frenchtown. Although the Eagles fell to Frenchtown, 8-1, they were only down 2-1 in the sixth inning. Frenchtown went on to win the Class A State championship.
After the loss to Frenchtown, Fergus faced Corvallis. In a slugfest, the Eagles won 23-15. Up next for Fergus was a game against Glendive. The Eagles won that contest, 6-3, and advanced to a game against Belgrade. A win over the Lady Panthers would have put the Eagles in a position to bring home a trophy from the state tournament, but Belgrade defeated Fergus, 15-6. The Lady Panthers went on to finish third at the state tournament.
10. Tournament returns to Lewistown
During the 2015-2016 no post-season tournaments were held in Lewistown for Class C. Lewistown had been home to a district basketball tournament since the 1950s, but when District 7C combined with 8C, the new District 8C decided to rotate the district tournament between Lewistown and Great Falls. Lewistown hosted the highly successful tournament at the Fergus High School Fieldhouse in February of 2015. Great Falls hosted the tournament at Great Falls High in 2016. The tournament comes back to Lewistown this year, 2017.
A tournament committee of Central Montanans has worked hard over the past three years to get the tournament to stay in Lewistown each year. In order to have the tournament in Lewistown, District 8C would need to vote for a change in its by-laws. A vote could take place in March, 2017.
In the fall of 2016, Lewistown hosted another successful Southern C Divisional Volleyball Tournament in the fall. This tournament rotates between Lewistown and Laurel each year.
FHS Athletic Director Jim Daniels has worked to put a Class C Invitational Tournament together to begin the basketball season each of the past two years. This year’s tournament was spread over three days at the Civic Center and the FHS Fieldhouse. Varsity contests were held at the Fieldhouse, while junior varsity contests were played at the Civic Center. A total of 39 games were played with 10 boys’ and girls’ teams from Class C schools, along with the Fergus boys’ and girls’ junior varsity and freshmen squads.
11. Cubs win
On a side note, the improbable happened when the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. Many diehard Cub fans throughout Central Montana celebrated the historic win over the Cleveland Indians.