Sanders County Ledger - Your Best Source For Sanders County News

View from the sidelines


January 3, 2019

Life happens.

And sometimes it happens in the most unexpected ways.

As usual in the sports world there were some changes last year as there always are from year to year - new heroes reaching new heights, new teams reaching championship goals but, in 2018, the biggest sports event of the season for Thompson Falls Blue Hawk fans did not happen on a field, a mat or a court - it happened at a meeting of the Montana High School Association board of directors in Helena.

At that regularly scheduled meeting of the MHSA, it was decided that Thompson Falls could begin playing 8-Man football beginning next season.

Although the drop to the 8-Man game was welcomed by and promoted by the TFHS administration, it is a big change for the players and the fans after so many years at the 11-Man level.

Thompson Falls athletic director Jake Mickelson, who helped present the school's case for reclassification in Helena, and Hawk football coach Jared Koskela are both hopeful about the change, which will put the Blue Hawks back on a more even playing field with traditional rivals like Plains, Troy and Mission, which had all made the move to the 8-Man game a few years earlier.

The transition to 8-Man football does not, however mean that the Hawks will be dropping to Class C. Thompson Falls will remain a Class B school and a member of District 7B in all sports except 8-Man football, which is no longer exclusively for Class C schools.

Mission and Troy have been operating this way the last several years even though Plains did make the full move down to Class C a few years back based on enrollment numbers.

The football move in Thompson Falls is a big one but, in retrospect it was only one of many noteworthy things to happen. Let us examine what went down, sport by sport, in Sanders County in 2018.


The winter of 2018-2019 was a very good one indeed for the grapplers of the county, and one wrestler from each local prep program ended the season with a rare individual state title.

Thompson Falls coach Ian Taylor and his Blue Hawks enjoyed a stream of team successes as well, placing second in the Choteau Invitational, winning their own Kato Invite, placing second in the Western B-C divisional tournament and sixth in the State B-C.

Seniors Kaleb Frank, Jase Sorenson, Peyton Irvine and Austin Cooper all placed at the State B-C meet at Metra Park in Billings, with Frank winning Thompson Falls' 16th individual title ever at 120 pounds, to highlight the Hawks' efforts at state.

Sorenson won third at 170, Irvine claimed fourth at 152 and Cooper fourth at 205.

Frank also won Choteau and Kato titles and finished second in the Western B-C, Sorenson also won Choteau and Kato championships in addition to claiming the 170 Western B-C crown. Frank is now on the wrestling team at Northern Montana College and Sorenson is playing football at a small college in North Dakota.

Truly an uncrowned champion, Sorenson had only two losses all season and they were both to undefeated 2018 State B-C champs – Eureka's Garrett Graves, the 182-pound two-time state champion in an exhibition match during the season, and to Colstrip's Dakoda Siegel in the State B-C semifinals.

Shaking off the loss to Siegel,

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Sorenson came back to claim his well-deserved third place medal in Billings.

Dakota Irvine (205 pounds) and Roman Sparks (103) also claimed Western B-C titles, and Cooper and Garrett Jones (113) finished second in the divisional meet.

Irvine and Jones both wrestled well into Saturday at the State B-C before being eliminated just short of gaining the medal around. Sparks did not wrestle in Billings.

The Plains-Hot Springs Savage Horsemen used their solid core of wrestlers – Peter Carey (113 pounds), Conrad Vanderewall (120), Daniel Uli (126), Josiah Vanderwall (132), Austin Stafford (145) and Luke Lile (160) – to earn fourth place as a team in Choteau and third in the Kato.

Uli was the undisputed ring leader for the Savage Horsemen all season and won titles in the Choteau, the Kato, the Western B-C divisional tournament and the State B-C tourney before he was done to cap his spectacular prep mat career.

Josiah Vanderwall won second place at the Western B-C and sixth at the State B-C, and Conrad Vanderwall wrestled down third at divisionals and sixth at state.

Stafford (third place), Lile (fourth) and Carey (fourth) all placed at the divisional meet but did not reach the medal round at state.

After the prep season was over, several area wrestlers went on to compete in a few other noteworthy events.

From Thompson Falls, Frank, Sorenson, Sparks and youth wrestlers Trae Thilmony and Eiljah Ratliff earned invitations to and participated in the Iowa Duals tournament after the Montana prep season in the Midwest.

From Plains, Uli and Josiah Vanderwall went to the Montana Open in late March, like the State tourney held at the Metra in Billings, and won titles at 132 and 138 pounds, respectively. Plains' sister mat act, Taylor Angle won second place in the girls' 95-102 pound class and moved up to place third at 109, and Kenzie Angle claimed second place in the 132-138 pound division.

Boys Basketball

The Plains Horsemen, playing for long-time PHS coach Mike Cole, who had taken turns at coaching the Trotters and the Horsemen during previous coaching stints in Plains, finished Cole's final season on the bench in style, winning second place in the District 14C tournament to advance on to the Western C divisional tournament.

At the Western C, the Horsemen won their way into the championship game before falling to eventual State C champion Arlee in the chipper, and then falling to Manhattan Christian in the challenge game to finish play with a fine 20-5 record.

The Horsemen completed Cole's turn as PHS coach with only nine losses in his final two seasons, and eight of those defeats were either to Arlee or Man Christian, the State C champs and runners-up the past two campaigns.

Jay VonHeeder and Kyle Weeks earned first team District 14C all-conference honors and Tanner Ovitt second team following the season.

From the Noxon Red Devils, Logan Wood and Rylan Weltz were named second team 14C all-conference and Hot Springs' Tyler Carr earned honorable mention.

Knocking on the door all season as being one of the best teams in the Western B, coach Jake Mickelson's Hawks could not escape from the tough divisional tourney field and earn a berth to the State B tournament.

Danny Hoisington (who was also named All-State B), Payton Frields and Nathan Thiebault were named first team all-7B and Dylan Beckman second team at season's end.

Girls Basketball

Multi-sports star Jessica Thompson earned first team District 14C All-Conference honors and All-State C recognition for the Plains Trotters and teammate Lindsay Laws was also named to the 14C first team, although the top-seeded Trotters had their season cut short at the district tournament with a loser-out loss to Hot Springs.

Hot Springs put McKennzie Cannon and Sydney Jackson on the 14C all-con team as honorable mention picks. The Noxon Lady Red Devils had Cory Brodmerkle on the first team, Delaney Weltz on the second team and Anna Kaiser on the honorable mention list.

The Thompson Falls Lady Hawks had their season ended at the Western B divisional tournament in a tough loss to Eureka. Haley Morgan and Megan Baxter were named to the District 7B All-Conference squad as second team picks.


All the other powerlifters were in awe of Sarah Detlaff of little old Thompson Falls at the Montana High School powerlifting championships in Helena last March.

Detlaff won the 132 pound state title while obliterating previous state records in the squat, the deadlift and the combined categories, surprising unaware meet officials who were busy awarding new state records – records which Detlaff had reportedly already broken earlier in the meet – to lifters from larger schools.

Detlaff eventually was shown the respect she deserved and was named as the Best Overall in the women's division at the conclusion of the meet.

Thompson Falls football coach Jared Koskela coaches the Blue Hawks powerlifting team and has been taking the Hawks to the state championships for the last several years. A total of 14 athletes went to last year's meet.

Also representing Thompson Falls, Nathan Ostwald won second place in the Men's 123 pound division, Sam Ostwald took second in the Men's 165 pound class and Aaron Dally placed third at 275 pounds.


Coach Michele Bangen and her Plains-Hot Springs Trotters won third place in the Western B-C divisional tournament to advance to the State B-C tourney in Belgrade, but lost out in two games there.

Kassidy Kinzie of Plains was later named first team to the Western B-C all-conference squad and to the All-State B-C team, and Stacy Gray of Hot Springs earned second team Western B-C honors, as did Thompson Falls sophomore Kelsey Frank, the only Lady Hawk to be named to the all-conference team.

The Lady Hawks were coached by Koskela, who was assisted by long-time head coach Randy Pirker and Julie Detlaff, last spring. The Hawks dedicated their season to Pirker, who sadly passed away before the season ended after spending one last season with his beloved Lady Hawk softball team.


Three Thompson Falls golfers earned All-State honors by placing in the top 15 individually at the State B tournament.

Seniors Dylan Beckman finished fourth overall at state among the boys and Elsie Brown claimed eighth with the girls. Elsie's little brother Ethan Brown won 11th place in the boys tourney.

In Plains, Lisa Brown took over as the head coach for Plains golf, but no Horsemen or Trotter golfers ended up placing at the State C meet.

Track and Field

Noxon junior Levi Brubaker literally jumped onto the Class C track and field scene last year and ended up winning the State C title in the triple jump with a Noxon school record effort of 44 feet, 3 inches in that event, in addition to placing fourth in the long jump in the State C meet.

Brubaker had claimed the Western C championship in the triple jump and second in the long jump the week before the State C meet, Rylan Weltz had placed second in the discus, third in the javelin and fourth in the shot put at the Western C, and Edison VanVleet had placed fifth in the 110 meter hurdles.

For the Lady Devils, Delaney Weltz had won third place in the shot put and sixth in the javelin at the Western C, and Cory Brodmerkle had placed fifth in the discus.

Jessica Thompson of Plains was the only other State champion in track and field from Sanders County last spring, winning the State C title in the shot put and claiming second in the discus and javelin. Lindsay Laws was the only other Trotter to medal in the State C, winning fifth place in the javelin.

Brandon Managhan placed in three events at the State C for the Plains boys, taking fourth in the triple jump, tying for fifth in the high jump and placing sixth in the long jump.

Tyler Carr was the only Hot Springs athlete to qualify for the State C after taking fourth place in the 110 meter hurdles in the Western C meet.

Thompson Falls had three athletes medal at the State B meet as Cody Garrison won fourth in the javelin and sixth in the pole vault for the Hawk boys and Jody Detalaff tied for sixth in the high jump and Maya Stiles tied for sixth in the pole vault with the Lady Hawks.

Missoula Marathon

Thompson Falls alumni Jacob Naegeli placed in the top ten of the open class for the fourth time in the Missoula Marathon, clocking 2:42:50.60 this time to win tenth place overall.

Also from Thompson Falls only a more recent model of runner, Parker McConnell set a new race record in the 19 and under division by finishing in 2:45:52.55, good for first place in his age class and 14th place overall.

Although the efforts of Naegeli and McConnell were the highlights for runners from Sanders County, the Missoula Marathon attracts many runners from this area for the annual race, rated by some organizations as the best marathon in the United States.

Cross Country

Sophomore Josey Neesvig won 16th place, just missing All-State B honors in the girls portion of the 2018 Cross Country championships in Missoula this past fall, to pace the Thompson Falls harriers.

Senior Rachel Ribeiro placed 54th and Megan Baxter 98th in the girls race and Justin Morgan paced the Hawk boys by placing 54th in that race.

Neesvig had earlier won fifth place and Ribeiro tenth in the Western B meet to earn all-divisional honors. Neesvig finished one place out of earning All-State B status in Missoula as only the top 15 are honored.

In college cross country racing, Plains graduate Russell Kujala, a stellar cross country and track and field runner and a two-time State champion wrestler for PHS during his prep days, won fourth place in the Frontier Conference Cross Country championships in Great Falls to advance on to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national finals in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.


Sanders County's two 6-Man football teams, Hot Springs and Noxon both qualified for the State C playoffs and the Savage Heat advanced to the quarterfinals before being eliminated 74-57 by the Jordan Mustangs. Noxon was felled 51-14 by Geraldine-Highwood in the first round a week earlier.

Coach Jim Lawson's Savage Heat finished the season with a 9-2 record and Tyler Carr and Tyler Knudsen were honored as All-Western C and All-State C players for Hot Springs. Luke Waterbury and Brandon Knudsen were also named all-conference.

Coach Bart Haflich's Red Devils completed play with a 5-4 record and Levi Brubaker, who recorded an amazing total of over 700 yards of total offense in Noxon's regular season game with West Yellowstone, was also named All-Western C and All-State C, and Edison VanVleet was named all-conference.

The Devils' game with West Yellowstone is quite possibly the highest-scoring game ever played in Sanders County football history, an 82-72 win for West in Noxon in October.

The Plains Horsemen finished season play in the Western C 8-Man division with a 2-7 record, and the Thompson Falls Blue Hawks went 0-9 in the Western B division.

Orion Pry-Hyde, Malachi Paulsen and Esvin Reyes were named all-conference for the Horsemen.


The Thompson Falls Lady Hawks, after a middling regular season, nearly shocked the world at the Western B tournament, upsetting Deer Lodge and Anaconda on the first day of the tourney to land in the undefeated match before falling to powerful Florence.

With a State B tournament berth on the line, the Lady Hawks then lost to Deer Lodge in an epic five-set match and settled for third place in the division.

Freshman sensation Scarlette Schwindt was later named first team all-conference for District 7B and to the All-State B team, Jody Detlaff was also named first team 7B, and Brooke Bowlin and Maya Stiles earned second team 7B honors.

In District 14C, the Plains Trotters entered the conference tournament as the No. 3 seed but emerged from the tourney in Hot Springs as champions, with Charlo finishing second and Hot Springs third.

Kylee Altmiller was named first team District 14C and to the All-State C team for the Trotters, Rachel Huenink was named second team 14C and Natalee Deschamps was accorded honorable mention.

From Noxon, Delaney Weltz was also named first team 14C and All-State C for the Lady Red Devils and Kristina Brown also earned a spot on 14C's first team.

From Hot Springs, Sydney Jackson earned a first team 14C nod, and McKennzie Cannon, Sage Jackson and Katelyn Christensen were named second team.


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