Back to school sports
Athletes prepare for the fall season
Ah, back to school season. Backpacks are packed, thinking caps are on, and students, parents and teachers are readying for another year of learning. There’s a return to classes, to friendships, and to the competitive action of fall athletics.
On the gridiron
In Ennis, Head Coach Michael Speck is taking over for former Head Coach Chris Hess. Speck is no greenhorn, though, as he has worked with the football team as an assistant coach previously.
This year the Mustangs lost four seasoned players to graduation, but three new seniors will step up, two of them previous starters and the third new to the sport this year. In all the team is comprised of 25 young footballers.
Coach Speck said his team has been a young one for the past two years, but the players now have the experience and leadership he sees as the team’s biggest strength. The Mustangs’ record was 5-3 last year, making it to the playoffs before losing in the first round to Fairview.
Practice this year started August 13, with the first matchup set for August 27 in Fort Benton.
At practice the team focuses on not only the sport but the mindset of competition.
“Our biggest thing is being positive,” said Coach Speck. “Our motto this year is ‘Talk with your pads, and help the opponent up,’ so being a dude, but being a gentleman at the same time.”
Head Coach Brett Nordahl returns for the sixth year as leader of the Twin Bridges football program. The team’s size, mirroring enrollment at the high school, has gone down this year. Sixteen players make up a team with five returning seniors set to lead their younger counterparts.
Practice thus far has focused on conditioning, with a little football mixed in, said Coach Nordahl. “With such a small team, we have a lot of guys that are going to have to play both sides of the football,” he said. “Just making sure they’re in shape so they can play a full game has been a focus.”
Last season the Falcon football team ended early at 2-3. Two more games were scheduled but cancelled due to Covid. That abrupt ending left the boys wanting more.
“That was a big letdown, so it made them hungry for this season,” said Coach Nordahl. “They’re at a point now where they’re just focusing and taking every day that we have as an opportunity to get out and play the game they love.”
The Falcons will enjoy a homefield advantage at their first game, set for August 27 against Great Falls Central.
Making a run for it
Ennis’ young long-distance runners are prepping for a season of success. Cross-country Head Coach Melinda Legg and her team of 20 junior and high school runners comprise the biggest cross-country team in school history.
This will be Coach Legg’s fourth year leading cross-country in Ennis, a sport she’s happy to coach as she’s been running for 40 years. And, as a math teacher, she’s able to juggle class and cross-country with its mostly weekend competition schedule.
Cross-country, with a mere 10-weeks from start of practice to state, has an extremely short season compared to other fall sports. To make up for that the young runners met for early morning summer runs Monday through Thursday during June and July. Some kids came out almost every day, said Coach Legg, and while the wildfire smoke did put a damper on some days, many of the runners are already comfortable running three or four miles at a time.
Cross-country season is so short, explained Legg, because the goal is to have the state meet before the snow falls. Last year her team competed in 12-degree temps on the second day of the state meet held in Kalispell. Cold was one thing, but the first-day competitors in A and B conferences battled six inches of snowfall.
“We got the wind and the snowdrifts, it wasn’t a lot of fun,” recalled Coach Legg, noting that last year’s competition was at the very end of October, while state this year will be held October 23 in Missoula. “Cross your fingers that we might not have a snowstorm this time.”
The Mustang runners’ first race will take place August 28 in Boulder.
She spikes, she scores
Harrison’s volleyball team is led by coach Lisa Cooper, a former Montana Western volleyballer. It’s a sport she’s played and coached for more than two decades.
“I like that it’s very much a team-oriented sport,” said Coach Cooper. “You can’t have one player just take over the game like you do in some other sports. Everybody has to do their part to be truly successful.”
It’ll be a bit of a rebuilding year this season for the Wildcat volleyball program this time around. Several previous players were lost to graduation or transfer, so the team of eight will be comprised of just one senior, no juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen. Two girls on the team are coming over from Willow Creek.
Given the young team, with two players who have never played before, Coach Cooper said practice has focused on the fundamentals, and having fun while doing so. The Wildcats’ first volleyball tournament takes place August 28 at Lone Peak High School.
This year the Twin Bridges volleyball program welcomes a new leader, Head Coach Kendall Keltz. Coach Keltz grew up attending school and playing volleyball at Twin and is back as a teacher and coach this time around.
The Falcon volleyball squad is comprised of twelve girls with a solid representation from each class, said Coach Keltz. Their first game is at home on August 26 against Sheridan.
“The girls are super excited and are really looking forward to where the season takes us,” said an impressed Coach Keltz. “We have a lot of work to do, but the growth I’ve seen already is awesome. They’re working hard and making lots of changes.”
Ennis’ volleyball head coach is on the other end of the years coaching longevity spectrum – Coach Betty Klein has been leading the school’s volleyball team for two decades. Last year her team made it to districts, but due rule changes related to Covid her team was eliminated in the first round – Klein feels confident that her 8-7 team could have gone further in the traditional double elimination scenario.
Last year aside, Coach Klein is now heading a team of 30 girls – nine experienced players on varsity. Regardless of experience level, Klein said her girls are hardworking and excited to play. “
We have a group of girls who love volleyball,” said Coach Klein. “That’s why our numbers are so good, they just love the sport, love to play it, and come ready to work every single day.”
The Mustang’s varsity girls head to Choteau for a pre-season tournament August 27 and 28, followed by their first regular season game at home against Sheridan on August 31.
Sheridan’s head volleyball coach, Sara Decker, has also seen a game or two – this year she marks 10 years in the position.
Five returning seniors will bring another level of leadership to the 20-girl team. One of the challenges facing the Panther volleyballers, said Coach Decker, is a lack of setters – the previous ones graduated, leaving a hole that needs to be filled.
“We have a lot of energy, and these girls, especially the seniors, have a lot of school spirit. It’s really trickling down to the younger girls who are excited to be there.” said Coach Decker who commended her players for being in the gym throughout the summer. “We’ve been having a lot of fun and doing drills we’ve never been able to do because they’re a little ahead of the game.
Last season’s record was 3-10, so the main goal, said Coach Decker, is to improve upon that. The Panthers’ first chance to do so will be August 26 in Twin Bridges.
*Don’t see your team here? Check back next week—not all of the coaches were available prior to press.
all sports season is upon us! Here’s a look at the next week of matchups facing our high school local athletes: the Ennis Mustangs, Harrison Wildcats, Sheridan Panthers and Twin Bridges Falcons.
Thursday, August 26 Volleyball
4 p.m. Twin Bridges vs. Sheridan
Friday, August 27 Football
7 p.m. Twin Bridges vs. Great Falls Central
7 p.m. Ennis @ Fort Benton 7p.m.
Sheridan vs. Choteau
Ennis @ Choteau Tournament
Saturday, August 28 Volleyball
8 a.m. Twin Bridges @ Drummond
Twin Bridges @ Lone Peak Tournament
Harrison @ Lone Peak Tournament
Sheridan @ Lone Peak Tournament
9 a.m. Twin Bridges @ Drummond
9 a.m. Ennis @ Jefferson High School
Tuesday, August 31 Volleyball
5 p.m. Sheridan @ Ennis
5 p.m. Twin Bridges vs. Lima