As students get ready to return to class, fall sports at Whitefish High School are also underway.
Teams began practicing during the second week of August. School starts next Wednesday, Aug. 29.
The Bulldogs football team is looking for an improvement over last year’s rebuilding season, returning the majority of last year’s team but with more experience.
Head coach Chad Ross said the team has been looking really good so far in its first few weeks of practice.
“We were so young last year, and we’ve pretty much got everyone back and we’re healthy,” he said. “We’re already better now than where we finished last year just by the fact that we’re healthy. They’re excited, the energy levels are up.”
The Dogs’ offense will be lead this year by Chad Queen, who split time behind center last year with Forrest Kobelt.
Jack Eisenbarth and Mark Anderson will return as two-way starters, and last year’s team defensive most valuable player Logan Drown will help lead the Whitefish defense.
The Dogs open the season this Friday at Hamilton at 7 p.m.
Hamilton last season played for the state championship, so Ross said he’s gearing up for a fight.
“They lost some guys but their quarterback will only be a junior this year and he’s been starting a few years. We think they’re going to be pretty good,” he said.
However, Ross said right now the focus is on the Bulldogs.
“We’re more worried about ourselves. We’ve had better participation in the weight room than we’ve had over the last couple years, so that will help us. That’s what we’re focusing on, things we can control,” he said. “If we can be competitive and keep it close and give ourselves a chance to win, I’ll be pretty excited.”
After falling short in last year’s state championship match against Belgrade, the boys soccer team is hoping to make another run for the title this season.
The boys return a strong core of players from last season while adding a new group of younger players, head coach John Lacey said.
“We lost a few strong seniors, but we’ve been young for a long time and we’ll continue to be a young team. But our guys have lots of experience, seven of them started in the state championship last year, so we’ve got a good core of players who are young but have played a lot already.”
The boys are getting set to take on Vikings Aug. 28 to open the season at Bigfork.
The goal is to get back to the championship game, Lacey said, but right now the focus is on tightening things up on the pitch before the season truly gets underway.
“It’s always about how we play. We might change a few things based on the opponent, but really we have a strong enough team that if we play our soccer we’re fine, so we’re really trying to spend this first week on our offense. Goals win games,” he said.
It’s also a young team on the girls side, head coach Roland Bendict said, but a versatile one.
“We’ve got a lot of girls, they support each other, and we’re really learning how to play together as a team. We’re unified and we’re pretty versatile, we have lots of players that can play lots of positions, so we’re still trying to figure out the best role for each player in the system,” he said.
The girls will also play Bigfork next Tuesday in Bigfork.
Benedict said he’s able to look past the basics in these early-season practices due to the success of the soccer program as a whole.
“We put a lot of effort in through the local club with the Rapids to work on players at the youth level, so we’re kind of seeing the fruits of our labor and we’re seeing players coming into the program where we don’t need to spend time on the basics,” he said. “They have the basics, so we can really focus in on team shape, tactics, the system in which we play.”
While it’s easy to look ahead at big, lofty goals for the season, Benedict said effort and consistency are the heart of what he wants his team to work on this year.
“You always want to shoot for the top, to win the conference and make the playoffs and all those things. I think for this group, since we’re really young, we just want to keep it simple and say, ‘Let’s just go out, play our game and try to get the most success out of each opportunity in each match.’”
The Whitefish volleyball team is on the court and preparing for the Northwest/Southwest Tipoff Tournament this week.
The tournament will be in Browning this Friday and Saturday.
This season’s team is young, head coach Addy Connelly said, but talented.
“We’ve got a lot of underclassmen who haven’t seen a lot of varsity playing time, but we’ve been working hard all summer. I’ve got a great group of athletic girls,” she said.
Three seniors, Lauren Schulz, Marlee Bender and Kennedy Grove, will lead the team.
Right now the priority is getting in shape and getting ready to bring their all during the tournament, Connelly said.
“We’re just working on conditioning and getting in shape and trying some different lineups to just see where everybody’s at. We’re just focusing on what we need to do, working together and playing next to each other,” she said.
The starting gun will sound on Friday for this year’s Whitefish Cross Country team at the Libby Invitational.
This year’s team should be strong for both boys and girls, head coach Richard Menicke said, with plenty of key returning runners.
“We’re looking good. We’ve got a really great looking squad. We’ve got a big freshman class and some very talented kids who will run varsity on the boys side. For the girls team, we lost no starting runner from varsity last year, so they’re looking good,” he said.
Key runners this year will be Ella Greenberg and Jessica Henson on the girls side and Miles Vrentas and Bridger Gaertner on the boys side.
Menicke said the girls team set a big-time goal of a top three finish at state for this season, while the boys are shooting for finishing in the top eight overall.
Right now the focus is on getting ready for Libby.
“We’re building our mileage and touching some speed over longer distances. Just trying to get the kids in a mentality and physical state to be able to get through their first race without causing injury or anything like that,” Menicke said.
The team will start racing at 11 a.m. in Libby on Saturday.
The Whitefish golf team’s season is already underway, with the girls tying for first and the boys second in Columbia Falls last week.
The girls tied with Corvallis behind Ella Shaw’s 90 and Megan Archibald’s 108, both tying scores. The girls played nine holes and doubled their scores due to smoky conditions.
On the boys side, Cameron Kahle tied for second with a 78. Jayce Cripe tied with Grant Kahle for 11th with a 92, and Ryan Kemm shot a 93.
“For a first tournament, that’s always a difficult course, and last week was no exception,” head coach Bill Kahle said. “There’s some room for improvement there, but for our first tournament, I’m really proud of them.”
This week they Whitefish Invite today before heading to Missoula for the Corvallis Invite on Tuesday.
Kahle said right now the focus is on tightening up his players’ short game.
“I think the short game is critically important to anyone’s game, but particularly for these kids. If they work on their approach shots and chipping and putting, that’s going to make the biggest difference throughout the year,” he said.
Looking ahead through the season, Kahle said his team is just looking to put forth a great effort and let the results speak for themselves.
“Our goals this year are obviously to have a strong showing at the divisional tournament in Libby, qualify for state and do our best,” he said. “I think if we play our best we’re going to have a really good run at the state tournament this year.”