Snow has yet to be cleared off of much of Whitefish’s track and tennis courts, but Bulldogs spring sports are underway.
Teams started practice on March 11 and have been getting their reps in at the Whitefish High School gym while the weather warms up.
Here’s a look ahead at the season:
Track and field
The Whitefish track and field team is looking to hit the ground running next week at Flathead.
The team returns a number of last year’s state finishers, including Lauren Schulz, Lee Walburn and Sam Menicke.
On the girls side, the team is looking to best last year’s fifth overall finish at state.
Schulz, champion in the 400 last season, will again look for a dominant season, head coach Derek Schulz said.
The team also returns Mikenna Ells, Anna Cook, Kennedy Grove, Marlee Bender, Ella Greenberg and Emily Gunlikson, among others.
On the boys side, Lee Walburn will look to improve on last season’s third place in the state 300 hurdles. Menicke also returns after last year’s fourth in triple jump.
In addition, the boys will get senior leadership from Jack Schwaiger, Keegan Wold, Dillon Botner, Jack Eisenbarth and others.
“We have a strong group of senior leaders in that class,” Schulz said. “We’ve got kids that are multi-sport athletes that are returning also that were at the state track meet a year ago.”
In both the boys and girls teams, Schulz says he’s hoping to get the experienced athletes leading the way for some of the newer kids on the team.
“There’s some really good kids that are hard working and fun to work with. My hope is the seniors set a high standard of work ethic and show that to some of these younger faces that have all this potential and we’ll see what happens. We want to be healthy, we want to continue our physical improvement throughout the season, but we have divisionals in Butte this year and we want to be ready for that challenge. Both boys and girls are teams that we feel like if we do a good job and we get the work ethic and commitment from the kids, then we should have a team that’s capable of placing at divisionals and maybe even state.”
At the time of writing only a few lanes had been cleared of snow on the track, but Schulz said it’s just a pattern of late starts that comes with living in northwest Montana.
“We can still get our practicing in, it’s been a little bit of a challenge but we’re accustomed to that kind of start anyway,” he said. “We’re just looking to get in shape and get the rust out.”
The team will compete at Flathead on April 2 at 3 p.m. The Saturday after, they’ll head down to Frenchtown before returning to the Valley for the Flathead Time Trials on April 9.
Later in the season they’ll host the annual Akey, Roseberg and Murphy A.R.M. Invite on April 27.
Divisionals are in Butte on May 17 and 18, and state is in Laurel a week later.
Schulz said right now it’s not clear whether that will be a full meet next Tuesday or if only some events will compete, as Legends Stadium and the surrounding field event areas still have some thawing of their own to do.
“Depending on their throwing areas, their weather between now and then ... we may be having a full meet, but we may not. I’m sure they’ll attempt to have some meet, even if it’s modified,” he said.
Lady Dog tennis
The Lady Dog tennis program is looking to improve on two consecutive fifth-place finishes at state in recent years, and their numbers suggest there’s plenty of girls looking to make an impact on the court.
Head coach Patrick Dryden said he’s got 35 girls out for tennis this year, including 17 freshmen, 10 sophomores, eight juniors and no seniors.
“That’s pretty unusual,” he said.
The team returns a number of key players from past years, including Claire Carloss, Jessie Grawunder, Olivia Potthoff and Aubrey Hanks, Abigail Shaffer and others. The team will also add Gracie Smyley, who Dryden says is jumping into the No. 1 singles spot to start the season.
While the courts are still covered in a foot or two of snow in Whitefish, Dryden says his players have been getting their reps in at the high school gym.
Right now the focus is on technique, he says.
“It’s just mostly the stroke. We’ve just got to get in that groove. We’re working a little bit on serving and doing some volleys,” he said. “I think being indoors is an advantage for a beginner.”
The Lady Dogs open the season next week in Ronan on Tuesday and are scheduled to face off in Columbia Falls the following Thursday.
Dryden said he’s got high expectations for his team, but he knows there’s going to be some tough competition this season.
“Polson’s definitely the team to beat. They’re the defending state champions, and they have the defending singles champion back,” he said. “But I think we just need to fill up some depth, stay sharp and be ready to go when divisionals rolls around. [State] will be at FVCC so we should get a lot of time on those courts between now and the state tournament. ”
The Bulldog tennis team returns to the court as the reigning Class A state champions, and head coach Chris Schwaderer says he’s hoping for another strong season out of his players.
“The team looks good. It’s an interesting year. We’ve definitely got some experience coming back from last year,” he said. “I think in some ways, we may be a stronger team than last year.”
The team returns seniors Brendan Buls and Mark Anderson from last year’s state placers. Anderson took fifth in his doubles match with Forrest Kobelt, while Buls took second overall in singles.
The team also returns Colter Upton, Jayce Cripe and other experienced players, in addition to some newcomers.
Whitefish opens the season down in Ronan on Tuesday.
Like the girls, the team has been inside for practices so far while the weather warms up, but Schwaderer said it’s been a good chance to tighten up technique with the use of low-compression balls indoors.
“Being indoors, in some ways it’s not that bad,” he said. “It gives us a chance to work on technique, so we can see how they swing the racket and make adjustments to their grip. We’re just trying to get as many reps as we can. I’ve definitely noticed some changes. Hopefully it’ll translate once we get outside.”
Schwaderer said for the past few seasons his focus has been on finishing out the season strong, until last season’s state title, and right now he’s hoping to keep pushing his kids to feel confident in the postseason.
If his teams can keep performing like they’ve been, Schwaderer says he’s excited for the tennis program in Whitefish.
“We’ve had some good teams. We continue to reload and keep getting kids in the program that develop, in recent years my concern was that we didn’t finish, and last year we got kids to state and they did well on the big stage and ended up winning. My hopes for this year are the same. I just want the kids to continue to develop that confidence and feel that they’re capable and they deserve to be on the big stage. I think we’ve got the personalities that are able to do that,” he said.
The Class A State Tournament for both tennis teams will be held at the FVCC courts on May 23 and 24.
Divisionals will be May 16 and 17 at Columbia Falls.