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Team effort

Polson’s Lady Pirates cruise to state track and field championship, led by one first-place, seven second-place performances

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Judged individually, they performed pretty darned well. But as a team they were head and shoulders above the rest. 

Marking a season that just got better and better as the weeks went by, Polson’s Lady Pirates ended the track and field season with a stellar team performance that earned them a state championship.

Led by a healthy mix of experienced and young athletes, Polson racked up 86 points to outdistance Hamilton (55) and Corvallis (54) at the Montana State Class A Track and Field championships, held in Laurel May 28-29. The Lady Pirates won the state title — their fourth in the last eight years — with only one individual champion but had seven second-place finishes.

“I told them they could do this at the beginning of the year. I told them they could do it midway through the year. And today at the state meet I told them they did it,” Polson head coach Bob Gunderson said. “Eighty-six points was more than I had anticipated us scoring. What a wonderful effort by a very focused group of girls.”

Loni Havlovick, who has signed to compete for Montana State next year, earned a state championship in Saturday’s discus event, with a mark of 130 feet even on her final throw of the competition. Havlovick was also second in the shot put competition with a throw of 39 feet, 9 inches.

Fellow senior Nicole Davey earned five medals, including second-place finishes in the 300-meter hurdles in 45.62 seconds and the pole vault at 10 feet, 6 inches, third place in the 400-meter dash in 59.58, and leading both relay teams to second-place finishes. Davey was very close to winning the 300 hurdles and the pole vault — she came up just nine-hundredths of a second short in the hurdle race and lost a tiebreaker jump-off in the pole vault. 

“I can’t say enough about the leadership Nicole brings to our track team,” Gunderson emphasized. “She competes at such a high level in every one of her events. She literally leaves it all out there every time.”

The 400-meter relay team of Katie Finley, Anna DiGiallonardo, Davey and Breanne Kelley placed second with a season-best time of 50.34 seconds that broke Polson’s school record. The 1,600-meter relay team of Christa Red Crow, DiGiallonardo, Kelley and Davey clocked a fast time of 4 minutes, 5.56 seconds to place second.

“Our handoffs in the girls 400-meter relay were perfect in the trials and better in the finals. This event is nerve-wracking to a coach and to see the girls perform as they did under pressure was awesome,” Gunderson said.

Although the 1,600-meter team’s second-place finish capped off the team victory, the title was sealed two events earlier on Saturday when Mesa Starkey beat her own school record time in the 3,200-meter run by 13 seconds, placing second in 11 minutes, 38.29 seconds. Starkey also added points to the effort with a fifth-place finish in the 1,600-meter run, clocking a 5:26.69.

“It was a great feeling when Mesa ran a great 3,200 and iced the championship for us with two events to go,” Gunderson said. “It was nice to have the meet sewn up early ... a lot more relaxing than usual at meet like this.”

DiGiallonardo, a freshman, raised quite a few eyebrows at the meet by almost winning the 100-meter dash finals on Saturday. She was edged by an eyelash at the finish line to place second in 13.14 seconds, with Belgrade’s Aimee Beck winning the event in 12.93. And if the finals were on Friday, DiGiallonardo would have won it all.

“Anna was the surprise of the state meet. She won her heat of the 100-meter trials (on Friday) with a 12.8 second effort, a personal record. She led the finals for 90 meters and was just beat out at the wire by the Belgrade sprinter,” coach Gunderson said.

Kelley added a fourth-place finish in the 100-meter hurdles in 16.44 seconds and Red Crow took fourth in the 300-meter hurdles in 47.19 seconds. Red Crow also had a personal-best triple jump of 34 feet, 1.5 inches to finish just out of the medals in seventh place.

“Christa didn’t score for us in this event but it was a PR for her and an outstanding effort,” Gunderson said.

Natasha Lafferty also took fourth in the shot put with a throw of 36 feet, 11 inches.

“Natasha had a PR in the shot put on her last throw in the preliminaries. She was not going to make the finals until that throw and had to do some ballerina type moves just to save the throw,” coach Gunderson noted. “It seems that Tasha always comes through when it counts. I am going to miss here a bunch next season.”

But that could be said of all four seniors — Davey, Havlovick, Lafferty and Red Crow — who wrapped up their high school track careers in Laurel.

“This group of senior girls have led the Lady Pirates to two state titles and one third-place finish. They are some of the most competitive people I have met in my 41 years of coaching and I appreciate all they have done for our program,” Gunderson said.

Thanks in large part to their leadership, the entire Lady Pirates track squad has been focused and team-oriented. 

“Katie Finley gave up her spot on the 1,600-meter relay when Anna DiGiallonardo had a better split at the divisional. She thought we would have a better chance of winning with Anna in there,” Gunderson noted. “We didn’t win the relay (at state) but we ran the best time of the season.”

Gunderson places a lot of credit for the team’s success on his dedicated group of coaches. 

“I can’t say enough about my assistant coaches — Rob Kelley, Rob Alfiero, Mike Ellis, and Jenni Brown. They work together and lay out a plan so that our kids can have the best chance for success,” Gunderson said. 

And, golly, did those girls perform.

“It’s really been a fun bunch to coach. They are clutch. They don’t back down and they compete, you have to beat them,” Gunderson said. “They’re just tough. They all do multiple events and they do them well.”

Polson’s boys’ team also saved their best efforts for the state track meet. The Pirates earned 19 points to finish 10th out of 22 teams.

Colter Bull capped off his senior season with two fourth-place finishes, clocking a time of 2:00.0 in the 800-meter run and 4:33.38 in the 1,600-meter run. Both times were personal records for Bull. 

“Colter was boxed-in in the 1,600 or he might have been able to finish higher,” Gunderson noted. “He gave us some great efforts this season.”
 
Brock Picard placed third in the javelin competition on Saturday morning, with a mark of 173 feet, 5 inches. Teammate Joe Andrews wasn’t far back, placing fourth with a toss of 171-1.
 
“Brock Picard’s and Joe Andrews’ three-four finish in the javelin was outstanding,” Gunderson said. “The javelin was thrown with a pretty good cross wind, the worst possible scenario for this event, and both had very good marks.”
 
Polson’s 1,600-meter relay team of Mike Devlin, Jordan Cross, Chris Cote and Andrews won their heat, the first of two, and eventually placed sixth in 3 minutes, 33.78 seconds. It was the team’s best time of the year. 
 
“They had to wait around and see the results of the second heat to see if they had placed. They finished sixth overall, which was outstanding for these boys.  They weren’t picked to place anywhere near that high,” coach Gunderson said. “We were fortunate to have them at state as they had been incorrectly disqualified at the divisional track meet and were a late addition to the state field. A protest that I filed with the MHSA over their divisional disqualification was upheld and the boys got to run at state meet.”
 
The Pirates had other good performances at the meet that finished just out of the medals. 
 
Andrews finished just out of the top six in the 200 meters by several hundredths of a second, finishing seventh in the finals. Alex Havlovick had a 46-7 effort in the shot put, but also finished just out of the medals in that event.
 
Polson’s four pole-vaulters also finished just out of the medals in the boys’ competition. Ty Fouty, Trae Fouty, Zion Lee and Brock Bleazard all cleared 12 feet, 6 inches, but all of them missed at 13 feet, which would have earned them a top-five place.
 
“We were hoping for better results at state as these boys scored a large number of points for the team during the season and were capable of going higher. )But) some meets are like that,” Gunderson explained. “I appreciate all of the effort they and their coach (Rob Kelley) put in this season. Seniors Ty and Trae Fouty will be missed next year.”
 
Gunderson also noted that senior Miles Bieber qualified for state for the first time, running in both the mile and two-mile races.
 
“He put in a lot of work this season and ran well at state but wasn’t able to finish in the top six. We will miss him in the program next year,” Gunderson said.
 
Vince DiGiallonardo also made the finals in the long jump with a 19-feet, 9-inch effort, but came up seven inches short of placing in the event. 
 
“He is a promising long-jumper and high-jumper and is only a sophomore. We are looking forward to having Vince in the program again next year,” Gunderson noted. “Sophomores Tyler Krell and Clark Rubel make us optimistic about our chances in the shot put and discus in the future. Though they didn’t place at state they had very good sophomore seasons and should do well next year.”
 

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