Billings Senior girls' track and field coach Jerry Weik lived like a celebrity Thursday at the opening day of the Class AA track and field meet at Missoula County Stadium.
With the AA boys' pole vault underway, Weik slipped off to find solitude on the grounds crawling with athletes and coaches from Montana's largest and smallest classes -- the State C meet runs concurrent to the AA at MCS this weekend. He was spotted sitting more than three-quarters up an otherwise empty grandstand.
Moments later, he was on the ground floor with a tape recorder in his face, shaking as many hands as were offered -- and there were a lot. Weik is in his third year as Senior's head coach, and as such he is in charge of the group seeking a state record seventh consecutive state crown.
"We've got to do what we've got to do," Weik said. "There's nothing to talk about with us."
Except that Senior's quest for history is one of the main subplots in an event bursting at the seems with them. Senior's Christina Aragon and Glacier's Annie Hill, two of the most renowned long-distance runners in the country, could run against each other four times in the 400, 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters.
Plains, recast as a Class C school last offseason, is after its fourth straight state title after winning three consecutive Class B championships.
Billings West's girls' 400-meter relay, the fastest in the history of the state if not for a technicality, is poised to claim that designation once and for all. Aragon and West Yellowstone harrier Bailey Parker could become the fifth and sixth girls in Montana to sweep two events all four years of their high school eligibility.
If that's not enough, Flathead's Jake Perrin is seconds away from resetting the all-class records in the 1,600 and the 3,200 held by his older brother Zach.
"It should be an exciting weekend," said Seeley-Swan coach Mike Haines, who will find out Saturday afternoon if his balanced girls' team can score enough points to avenge a four-point defeat at last year's meet and end Plains' run in the process.
Despite the services of Aragon, who comes from one of the most decorated families in state history, Senior is projected to lose its grip on the state title to Billings West and its troupe of sprinters. In the 100, the Golden Bears own the three fastest times. In the 200, it's the top two and three of the top five. In the 100 hurdles the top two runners attend West, and in the 300 the list swells to four of the fastest seven.
West coach Rob Stanton is hoping Brooke Endy, Maddie Brockel, Shae Helterbran, Michaela Johnson, Brittney Marosok and company are enough to overcome the absence of a long jumper, triple jumper and high jumper.
"We made sure the bus didn't leave without him," Stanton joked.
That void should allow for Bozeman to push West. While the Golden Bears get their points on the oval, the Hawks to do so in the jumps. During the Eastern A Division, won by Bozeman in a landslide, the Hawks qualified six jumpers who earned 55 points.
West's gang of sprinters, and Bozeman's jumpers create a precarious position for Missoula Sentinel, the Western AA champ is considered a darkhorse title contender by those in attendance Thursday. For Sentinel to pull off the upset, it would need Emily Malone, Madi Arneson and Kylie Fohlich to find slots near the top of the leader boards in the throws and then hope its jumpers, notably the Schweyen sisters and Ashley McElmurry, can steal some points in their events.
"If we can get our girls to offset some of those points, and maybe steal some of those points from them -- or maybe things occur where someone from another school even steps up and takes points away from the possibility of Billings West taking all those speed points," offered Sentinel coach Craig Mettler.
That could come from intracity rival Big Sky, which could claim an individual state champion in Hannah Coburn, a favorite in the long jump, the 100 and the 300 hurdles. With a few inches in the triple jump, Hannah Kearns could earn Big Sky another gold.
Hellgate's best chance, in the boys' and girls' meets, comes from its distance programs. Though Aragon and Hill are the favorites in each of the disciplines, the Knights' Ella Degrandpre is certain to be in a pack just behind the nationally ranked runners.
On the boys' side, the Knights are counting on Peter Kirgis to score highly in the the 1,600 and 3,200 to keep them in competition with their Missoula rivals, which have faced a down year. Sentinel is depending on recovering distance specialist Marshall Beatty and its 400 relay team, while Big Sky will look for Marcus Lindquist to stay out front in the long and triple jumps.
Most eyes will be fixed on the head-to-head races Aragon and Hill run against each other. Aragon ran the fourth-fastest time in United States prep girls' history earlier this month in California and Hill completed a 10-minute, 14.14-second 3,200 in the same state, 12 seconds faster than Montana's state record.
They are scheduled to begin in the 800 at 12:30 p.m. and then two hours later run again in 3,200 final. Less than an hour later they'll be back on the track to run the 400, the day's closing event.
"It's going to be a tough day, but (Christina) is more than capable to do it," Weik said. "She's about as mentally prepared as anyone could be so we'll just go out and run them and see what happens."
Seeley-Swan, fresh off a Western C divisional title, is in position to end Plains' three-year run. Heavily favored in the 1,600 relay, the Blackhawks will need Alex Bohlman to score in the sprints, jumps and javelin and distance specialist Stephanie Robbins to stick with Parker in the long runs.
Ennis, with its pint-sized sprinter and hurdler Wrenzi Wrzesinski, and the Trotters are Seeley's most likely competition. Contrary to the Blackhawks' versatility, Plains' points are concentrated to the throws. Leah and Jessica Thompson come into the meet as the leaders in the discus and the shot put, while Trotters Carley Vonheeder and Kimberly Earhart have thrown the javelin farther than anyone else in the class.
"I've just told them to relax and do what they've done all year long," Haines said. "Just do their best. They've worked hard all year just keep doing it."
Wrzesinski's older brother, Cleet, a speedster who will contend for four races and run a leg on Ennis' blazing 400 relay, make the Mustangs the team to beat for the Class C crown. Charlo should challenge for a top-three finish with sprinter Michael Delaney and Dugan Runkel in the shot put and the discus.
"I think we're in 11 of the 17 events so we gave ourselves an opportunity to score," Charlo coach Bret Thompson said. "We just have to show up Friday and Saturday and perform."