State championships, heartbreaks, coaches coming and going — 2017 had it all for local sports.
The Whitefish High School girls swim team got the year going with a state championship in February, taking first overall in Great Falls.
Caroline Dye set new school records in her third place 200 intermediate and 100 butterfly, and the boys team took a solid third place at the championship meet as well.
The boys soccer team looked to add a championship of their own later in October, even after wildfire smoke and cyber-terrorist threats canceled homecoming and a handful of home matches. Playing shorthanded against the defending champion Belgrade Panthers, the Bulldogs fought hard to keep the match at 0-0 through the first half before the Panthers eventually got hot.
While they couldn’t come away with the gold, the team finished the season 10-4-1 with a second-place finish in Class A.
Other Bulldog sports showed up in state competition.
Wrestler Travis Catina took second overall at 205 pounds in the Class A State Wrestling Tournament in February.
The Whitefish girls golf team took third overall and the boys fifth at the state tournament in Sydney, and cross country girls added their own fourth place finish.
The Lady Dogs tennis team also took fifth in state late in May behind a third-place performance from foreign exchange student Paint Intasuk, and sprinter Lauren Schulz took second in the 200 and fourth in the 100 and 400 in the Class A State Tournament in Laurel.
The year also saw some coaching shakeups.
Emily Von Jentzen, a competitive triathlete and the first person in history to accomplish the double crossing of Flathead Lake, came on as head coach of the Whitefish swim team starting in the fall, and despite a severe, life-threatening kidney failure in August, boys basketball coach Sean Duff returned to the court on time for the start of the season.
The most unexpected change came when longtime volleyball head coach Jackie Fuller resigned just a few weeks into the season. Fuller is the assistant principal at Whitefish Middle School and coached volleyball from 1994 to 2010 before returning in 2015, racking up five state titles, six Coach of the Year awards, seven divisional titles, 15 trips to state and a spot in the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame along the way.
Fuller cited conflicts with athletes about her coaching style as her reason for leaving, and former Columbia Falls volleyball coach Addy Connelly was hired as the new head coach.
Finally, after 22 consecutive years of holding the State Winter Games in Whitefish, Special Olympics Montana announced that streak will end. The organization stated it’s moving toward smaller regional competitions instead of one big competition after significant growth and expansion made the group rethink its structure. Whitefish will still hold a one-day regional competition this winter.