Dating back to the beginning of track season on March 14, when the sun wasn't shining like it was Saturday and the temperature wasn't nearly as enjoyable, the Missoula Sentinel girls' 400-meter relay team has been in flux.
Overwhelmed with athletes of all characteristics -- small ones and tall ones and fast ones, and others who can jump tall bounds and a couple who can do both -- who have made the school's volleyball and basketball teams state title contenders, the relays coach, Karen Umbaugh, wasn't sure how she was going to take advantage of the abundance of natural talent.
On Tuesday, Umbaugh moved Syd Steele, one of the small fast ones, to the first corner. That was the spot of Shelby Schweyen, one of the tall ones who can run and jump, and is now the Spartans' anchor.
On Saturday, Schweyen ran the final leg of Sentinel's meet-winning time of 50.24 seconds. It qualified the Spartans for the state meet, where the entirety of the team will be considered a contender for another title if the results of the Missoula Invite are to be taken as indicator of future success. Sentinel scored in 14 events on its way to the top of the points standings, beating crosstown rival Big Sky 118-89.
"We expected our girls to come in here and compete at a high level," said first-year Spartans coach Craig Mettler during that meet that also presented Kalispell Flathead a first-place boys' trophy. "I knew that we had a chance to be one of the top teams for sure."
Schweyen scored 20 of the points, the Spartans' long-distance program added another 23 and the remainder came from a variety of disciplines. About the only thing the Spartans didn't do was add to the four track records that were set at Missoula County Stadium.
The team that finished second to Sentinel, the Big Sky Eagles, were the benefactor of two records set by Hannah Coburn on a personal-best day. Coburn was in four events and set four personal bests. One of them, a leap of 18-feet, 2 inches, shattered the state's previous best long jump mark this year by 10 inches. And another, a 12.58 100 meters, set a record by 0.06.
Coburn was also first in the 300 hurdles, running that race in 46.76, and came in second in the 100 to teammate Hannah Kearns despite shaving half a second off her previous best time.
"It was a good day, it was fun," Coburn said. "It was really nice weather."
Temperatures crept into the mid 60s, a perfectly temperate condition for the 3,200, but a little warm for the 1,600, according to Flathead's star distance runner Jake Perrin. Perrin dumped water on his head to cool off and then ran a track-best time of 4:16.54, crossing the line 11 seconds ahead of second-place Peter Kirkis of Hellgate and 3 ahead of the previous record.
Annie Hill, one of the best runners in the nation, cruised to a record in the 800, crossing the line in 2:13.04. The time is the fastest she has recorded this season and is the second lowest time recorded in the state.
Perrin, who ran a 9:02.49 in the 3,200 to finish 17th at Arcadia, a prestigious national race in California, came to Missoula hoping to reach 4:15, instead he left with bragging rights over his older brother Zach, the previous record holder.
"It's kind of cool, but he has the overall state record of 4:09, so if I could get that it would be awesome," Perrin said.
Perrin's blazing pace was the highlight of Flathead's win, but a little farther down the list was the Big Sky Eagles' boys' team. Marcus Lindquist, who was named the Class AA field MVP, swept the long jump and the triple jump. He was one of three Eagles to win MVP honors, Kearns was honored in the AA field, and Coburn on the track.
"It was a really good day for the Eagles," Big Sky coach Dan Nile said.
Nile's coaching counterparts in the city felt the same about their teams. Mettler's first Missoula Invite as the Spartans coach ended with his boys in fifth place on the strength of Jory Breen's win in the shot put. And Hellgate, also with a first-year head coach in Jeff Dohn, finished the day eighth.
As it typically does, Hellgate's distance programs powered both Knight teams. Peter Kirgis won the 800 and was second in the 1,600. In all, five Knights scored for the boys and four for the girls including Ella DeGranpre's win in the 3,200.
"I think we had a great day today," Dohn said. "The first meet is kind of to set your season best and from there we work on getting better."
A correction was made to this story to reflect the height Polson's Jacob Clairmont cleared in the pole vault. An earlier edition reflected the results posted athletic.net reporting Clairmont vaulted 16 feet, 6 inches, which would have been a track record. Clairmont's correct vault was 13-6, the meet's best mark.