The Lady Bulldogs showed up to compete at the Class A State Track Invitational, coming away with their first title in 35 years.
The team had one individual winner in Mikenna Ells (400) and won the 4x100 and 4x400 relays en route to their championship, which is the first for the school since 1984.
The team finished with 82 points over the two-day event, ahead of Dillon and Corvallis.
Head coach Derek Schulz said the girls’ title took some time to actually register.
“It was such an amazing thing,” Schulz said. “The girls were almost in disbelief. It was hard for it to sink in, but they came to play, that’s for sure. And they did it, and no one really expected it except for them and the coaches, we knew we had some quality kids there that could perform. They had to go out and perform, which they did for two straight days.”
“It’s definitely one for the history books,” he added.
Ells had a stellar meet, winning the 400 outright (57.47) and taking third in the 800 (2:23.09).
Lauren Schulz finished off her great Bulldog career with a second in the 200 (25.98), a second in the 400 (59.49) and a fourth in the 100 (12.66).
Kennedy Grove took third in the 300 hurdles (48.72) and Natasha Abramchuk fifth in the 100 hurdles (16.75). In distance, Ella Greenberg earned fourth in the 800 (2:23.82) while Jessica Henson took eighth in the 3,200 (12:30.72).
Emily Gunlikson took fourth in pole vault (10-00).
Schulz pointed to Greenberg’s performance as particularly impressive, especially because she was sick and didn’t race at all on Friday before taking fourth on Saturday.
“She ran one of the gutsiest 800 meters I’ve seen,” Schulz said.
Both the short and long relay teams continued their improvement all the way to Laurel, Schulz said.
The short relay consists of — in order — Grove, Ells, Gunlikson and Schulz, while Schulz, Gunlikson, Tommye Kelly and Ells ran the 4x400 relay.
“Relays are everything,” Schulz said. “We were probably ranked third or fourth in both before the races. When we competed so well in those, that told me a lot about how the team was going to perform. We talk about that a lot, how relays are so important to our team, and we had some girls that certainly committed to that. We put together good races at the right time. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
For Ells and Schulz, their performances at state were consistent with a full season of great times and senior leadership.
“They clearly were our go-to athletes, they sort of put the team on their back and led by example, especially in Laurel,” Schulz said.
And as the team graduates Lauren Schulz, coach Schulz’s youngest daughter, his time of coaching family comes to an end as well.
Along with Lauren, Schulz’s daughters Marlow and Allie also ran track for the Bulldogs before going on to compete in college. Lauren will run for the Montana State University track team next year.
“For nine years I’ve had a daughter on the team, they kind of overlapped there, so this is the last year that happened,” Schulz said. “It sure was neat. She should be really proud of what she’s done over her four years. She really had a level of focus this weekend that was unique and I’m really proud of her for that.”
But the Dogs have young talent to work with moving forward, notably freshman Erin Wilde, who took second in high jump (5-02) and sixth in long jump (16-07.5).
“Erin’s talented. She has a track and field desire that is really uncommon,” Schulz said. “Her performance down in Laurel was next to unbelievable. She’s a freshman, she’s much smaller than all of the competitors she’s up against, but she doesn’t let that bother her.”
Schulz praised all his assistant coaches for a stellar season, but pointed specifically to coach Kelliann Blackburn and the bond she had with the girls.
“We had to keep our eye on the ball and keep pushing ahead and she’s one of the big reasons they were able to do that. She has sort of a sisterhood bond with the girls that I don’t have, and I think that’s critical for a team to come together like that,” he said.
On the boys side, the team tied for fifth.
Lee Walburn won the 300 hurdles outright (39.83), took third in the 110 hurdles (15.51) and took fourth in the 400 (50.00).
Schulz said Walburn’s performance in Laurel was a fitting conclusion to a strong Bulldog athletics career.
“Lee is steady. He’s a quiet leader, but when he laces it up he is competitive. He put in so much dedicated time working on his hurdling with coach [Scott] Smith, and then as he showed on the basketball court, he’s a stellar athlete. He’s also a stellar kid. For him to culminate his career with a state title in the 300 hurdles, it was definitely some justice. He’s had some bumps in the road in his career too, so it was really gratifying to see that smile,” he said.
The 4x100 relay took fifth (43.76) and the 4x400 third (3:25.75).
Devin Beale, Josh Dudley, Jack Schwaiger and Walburn make up the short relay, while Dudley, Marvin Kimera, Schwaiger and Walburn run the long relay.
Getting fifth in the short relay was its own sort of championship for his team, Schulz said.
“We had no business placing in the state meet, we don’t have a single 100 meter qualifier out of those kids,” he said. “So they basically did that with team work and commitment to good exchanges. It’s really neat when things like that happen. It’s really neat when you shock everyone by placing when no one thinks you have a chance.”
In the longer relay, Schulz said Schwaiger’s leg of the race was the difference maker.
“Schwaiger was on fire in his leg of that relay,” he said. “The heart and desire he showed in that leg was astounding. He’s been a role player his whole career in track, and it’s really neat to see him relishing that role and having both of his relay teams place at state. Neither could have done it without him, and that relay at the end was a fantastic way to end his career.”
In the field, Sam Menicke took fourth in triple jump (42-08.75) while Jack Eisenbarth took fifth in pole vault (13-6).
Schulz is set to retire as a Whitefish High School teacher once school ends in mid-June, but he hasn’t yet decided if he’ll continue coaching the track team in the future.
Right now, it doesn’t matter, he said.
“I want this time to be about those kids,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be about me.”
at Laurel Sports Complex
Whitefish 82, Dillon 62, Corvallis 53, Lewistown 38, Hamilton 35, Columbia Falls 27, Glendive 26, Havre 26, Polson 26, Frenchtown 24, Laurel 22, Belgrade 19, Sidney 18, Billings Central 18, Hardin 11, Stevensville 11, Butte Central 11, Libby 7, Ronan 7, Miles City 4.
100: 4, Schulz, Lauren, Whitefish, 12.66.
200: 2, Schulz, Lauren, Whitefish, 25.98.
400: 1, Ells, Mikenna, Whitefish, 57.47. 2, Schulz, Lauren, Whitefish, 59.49.
800: 3, Ells, Mikenna, Whitefish, 2:23.09. 4, Greenberg, Ella, Whitefish, 2:23.82.
3,200: 6, Henson, Jessica, Whitefish, 12:30.72.
100 hurdles: 5, Abramchuk, Natasha, Whitefish, 16.75.
300 hurdles: 3, Grove, Kennedy, Whitefish, 48.72.
400 relay: 1, Whitefish 49.72.
1,600 relay: 1, Whitefish 4:03.93.
High jump: 2, Wilde, Erin, Whitefish, 5-02.
Pole vault: 4, Gunlikson, Emily, Whitefish, 10-00.
Long jump: 6, Wilde, Erin, Whitefish, 16-07.50.
Laurel 81, Dillon 81, Miles City 47, Sidney 38, Lewistown 34.5, Frenchtown 34, Whitefish 34, Columbia Falls 31, Hamilton 25, Butte Central 21, Hardin 20, Livingston 19, Corvallis 14, Glendive 11, Billings Central 10.5, Ronan 8, Libby 7.5, Belgrade 5, Browning 3, Polson 2.5.
400: 4, Walburn, Lee, Whitefish, 50.00.
110 hurdles: 3, Walburn, Lee, Whitefish, 15.51.
300 hurdles: 1, Walburn, Lee, Whitefish, 39.83.
400 relay: 5, Whitefish 43.76.
1,600 relay: 3, Whitefish 3:25.75.
Pole vault: 5, Jack Eisenbarth, Whitefish, 13-6.
Triple jump: 4, Menicke, Sam, Whitefish, 42-08.75.