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Pirate track gets started early at Corvallis meet

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Early track season usually includes a little snow, but the tropical climate of the Bitterroot was just right last Saturday. 

The Polson track team opened the season at last weekend's Gene Hughes Invitational track meet in Corvallis, enjoying partly sunny skies and 55-degree weather. The meet was hosted in Corvallis by Hamilton. 

"We used to go to this meet every year but haven't in some time," Polson head coach Bob Gunderson explained. Gunderson, who is entering his 34th year of coach Pirate track, said the meet was moved to Corvallis to take advantage of the school's new all-weather track. "We will probably go back to making this an annual event. The weather was great. We have been scheduled to go to Columbia Falls the last several years and have had that meet cancelled due to snow on the track."

Polson's girls' squad won the meet, totaling 145 points, followed by Hamilton at 108 and Stevensville at 75. Polson's short-handed boys squad placed third with 76 points, just two points behind second-place Thompson Falls.

Loni Havlovick and Nicole Davey were both double-winners for Polson. Havlovick won the shot put with a throw of 35 feet, 3 inches, and took the discus title with a toss of 112 feet, 1 inch. Davey won 400-meter dash in 1:03:47 and took first in the pole vault, clearing 8 feet, 6 inches.

Breanne Kelley won the 300 hurdles in 49.29 seconds and took second in the 100 hurdles in 16.55. The junior also placed second in the 200 in 27.70 seconds.

Kelley and Davey were also on both winning relay teams for Polson. Kelley, Davey, Katie Finley and Christa Redcrow won the 400 relay in 52.07, while the same crew won the 1,600 relay in 4:19.82.

Redcrow took second in the triple jump with a lead of 31 feet, 9.75 inches and was third in the long jump at 15 feet, 2.25 inches. Finley also took third in the 100 (13.69) and fifth in the 200 (29.13).

Natasha Lafferty also placed in both her throwing events, taking second in the shot put at 33-11 and third in discus at 92 feet.

Mesa Starkey had a good season start in the middle and long distances. She took third in the mile at 5:52.33 and was fourth in the 800-meter run at 2:41.63. Geri Slyvester also placed sixth in the 800 at 2:54.40 and took fourth in the 400 at 1:10.56.

"It was great to have Nicole (Davey) back after missing all last season due to mononucleosis. She had such a great sophomore year and was nervous about her first meet in two years," coach Gunderson said. "She ran a very good 400, considering she wasn't pressed by anyone. Her split on the 1,600-meter relay was 61.5 seconds as she came from 15 meters behind to catch the Corvallis runner on the final turn and win the race."

Gunderson noted that Davey also narrowly missed making 9'6" in the pole vault.

"Loni Havlovick also had a good day ... and Natasha Lafferty was right behind her in both (shot put and discus) events," Gunderson noted. "These two seniors have placed at state each of the last two seasons and consistently give us very good efforts."

He added that Kelley placed in five events, which is nothing unusual for the junior.

"She individually and on the relays accounted for 25 points at this meet. Her hurdle times are both better than they were at the beginning of last season," the coach emphasized. "Christa Redcrow had a good day in the jumps. Christa also jumped 4'8" in the high jump but didn't place based on misses."

Gunderson noted that Finley placed in all four events she was entered in. He added that Starkey ran the 800 for the first time and turned in a very good time of 2:41, as well as placed in the 1,600.

"These are both shorter distances for her as she usually concentrates on the 3,200 meters," Gunderson said.

"We miss Sierra Pete (out with ACL for the season) but the girls are doing a great job of making up the slack that is there because of her absence. All are doing multiple events and competing well in them," Gundy said. "This core group of young ladies have a state title and a third place trophy because of this effort."

Polson's boys also had a good showing, though they were missing a number of performers, including Jason Bowman and Joe Andrews in the sprints. Brock Picard is also still nursing back to health a hamstring injury from football, but did compete in the javelin. 

"We were missing some of our boys due to minor injuries or the 10-day practice rule," Gunderson explained. MHSA requires that athletes must have completed a minimum of 10 practices before they can compete. "We only had 10 practice days and some of the kids missed due to illness or school-related activities."

Freshman Mike Devlin had a very good meet, winning the 400-meter dash in 54.69 and placing fifth in the long jump at 18-8, both personal bests. He also ran on both relay teams.

Ty Fouty was Polson's other event winner, jumping 12 feet in the pole vault. His brother, Trae, is out until May as he recovers from a knee injury suffered during the football season.

The 400-meter relay team of Brock Bleazard, Traven Hoyt, Devlin and Vince DiGiallonardo placed second with a time of 47.38 seconds. The long, 1,600 relay team of Colter Bull, Devlin, DiGiallonardo and Chris Cote took third in 3:46.14.

Picard took third in javelin with a throw of 165-1, while Alex Havlovick took third in shot put at 42-8 and fifth in discus at 123 feet.

DiGiallonardo placed fourth in the 100-meter dash in 12.22, followed by Hoyt in fifth at 12.43. Cote took sixth in the 200 at 25.47 and fifth in the 400 at 56.21. Ty Fouty took fourth in the 300 hurdles, clocking a 48.70.

Miles Bieber edged Bull for fifth in the 800 in 2:18.08. Bull was just half a second back at 2:18.53 to finish sixth and he did place fifth in the 1,600 at 4:55.44. Bieber also earned sixth in the 3,200 with a time of 11:21.

"I am glad we were able to go to a meet early in the season as it gives us a measuring stick for what we need to work on," Gunderson said. "We were by no means fully prepared for this meet. We have had good weather but only 10 days of practice. Trying to get kids ready of 17 events in 10 days is not easy to do." 

Polson returns a number of athletes with experience off last year's squads, though most of that experience was on the girls' side. The boys had some very good performances at state and the girls captured third, after unseating Whitefish for the divisional title.

The girls finished strong despite losing Davey to mono early on in the season. Davey contributed 30 points to the team at state as a sophomore, so it was a considerable impact.

"We missed having her leadership and athletic ability on our team. (But) the rest of the girls really stepped it up in her absence and had some very good performances at the divisional and state meets," Gunderson said. 

Standouts for the boys include Andrews in the short dashes and relay, plus the javelin.

"Joe works hard and should do well in his events this year," Gunderson said.
Trae Fouty should return within a month and compete in pole vault and the 300 hurdles. Ty Fouty as gone 13 feet in the pole vault and could be the divisional champion this year.
They'll be joined in pole vault by Zion Lee, who Gunderson predicts should be one of the top vaulters in the division, along with Bleazard.
DiGiallonardo will run in the 100, 200, 4x100 relay, 4x400 relay and compete in long jump.
"He was injured most of last year but has excellent speed and jumping ability," Gunderson noted.
Bull finished fourth at state in the 1,600 in 4:39 and will also run in the middle distances and long relay.
"Colter came on strong at the end of the year last year. We are expecting a lot out of him this year," his coach said.
Bowman will run in the 100, 200, and 4x100 relay. 
"(Bowman has) tremendous potential. If we can get him in the 400 meters this year he could be a force at the state meet in all his events," Gunderson emphasized.
Gunderson also likes the potential of his newcomers on the squad.
"We have 45 boys out this year and only nine of them are returning lettermen," the coach summarized. "Our strength looks to be in the pole vault, sprints, distance/middle distances, and discus. It is hard to tell at this early point of the season but with the numbers that we have we could develop into a pretty decent track and field team by the end of the year."
The girls are led by a lot of experience from last year's squad.
Kelley will compete in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles, 400, 200, and both relay teams. 
"She has garnered 11 medals in her two state track meet appearances — an outstanding athlete and competitive in all her events," Gunderson said. 
Davey will compete in the 300 hurdles, 400, both relays and pole vault. 
"Its good to have her back," Gunderson repeated. "She was a state 300-meter hurdle champion as a sophomore and placed second in the 400 and pole vault at state that year."
Redcrow will also have a full slate, competing in the 300 hurdles, long jump, triple jump, high jump and both relays. She has placed in multiple events during each of her three trips to state, finishing a surprise second in the 300 hurdles at state last year. She has also been a part of two state champion 1,600-meter relay teams.
Finley will run in the 100, 200, 4x100 relay, 4x1,600 relay, and jump in the long jump.
"Katie has been with us for two seasons now and has helped our relay teams to numerous victories. She is very competitive," Gunderson noted.
Havlovick will also be strong in shot put, discus and javelin.
"Loni has placed in each of the last two years in the shot put and discus and has the potential to win one or both of those events this year," her coach said.
Starkey will compete in the 1,600 and 3,200.
"Mesa has had very good success in cross country and will definitely help us this year at the longer distance races," Gunderson said.
Lafferty will also compete well in shot and discus.
"Tasha has placed each of the last two years at state in the shot put," Gunderson noted.
"Our biggest challenge with the girls is to keep them as healthy as possible. We have had our problems over the last several years. We get Nicole back this year and lose Sierra," Gunderson said. "We have the talent to go all the way, especially at the state meet level where large numbers of athletes in your program aren't as important as the quality of the ones you have."
The Lady Pirates are setting the bar pretty high and fully expect to do well this year.
"We will try to defend our divisional championship, which will be difficult against teams like Columbia Falls and Whitefish that have three times our numbers, and our seniors want to finish off their four years of track with another state championship," Gunderson said. "I am going to enjoy this year – appreciating the seniors we have – 23 total on the boys and girls teams.  We have some outstanding athletes that work hard and set goals and that makes coaching them a pleasure."
Polson will next compete at the Columbia Falls Invitational on Saturday, April 10.

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