There's no denying it, the Corvallis girls track and field team is, by any metric, a dynasty.
They put that label -- and their six-time title defense -- to the test Friday and Saturday at the Class A and Class C state meet in Laurel.
According to head coach Spencer Huls, consistently staying at the top has everything to do with, well, consistency. That and hard work, of course.
“I think that what we’ve had here in the last few years is just a bunch of kids that are really dedicated and that doesn’t happen by chance. The coaches I have are dedicated as well,” said Huls, who took over as the head man in 2003-04 and has had nearly his entire staff in place since 2007.
“We all showed up at the same place at the same time and we’ve had really good success with it.”
Success just scratches the surface. When the Blue Devil girls started the winning streak in the spring of 2011, a slew of young runners carried the day. That core grew up and surged to its third straight team title in 2013, breaking the Class A state record for most points scored in a meet with 185.5.
But even after the Blue Devils lost the likes of Sadi Henderson -- now at Boise State -- to graduation or Kaycie Stewart to the University of Mary, they still kept winning. Corvallis kept churning out college athletes, too.
Huls estimates 25 girls in his tenure have gone on to compete at the next level.
Four of them – Jane Booth, Carlie Jessop, Zena Smith and Lakyn Connors – are on the University of Montana track and field team. Although head coach Brian Schweyen cannot comment specifically about Corvallis high school per NCAA rules, he can share what makes his four athletes who hail from the Bitterroot a great fit for his squad.
“They come from great families where hard work is instilled and they’re good athletes to begin with," Schweyen said. "We were fortunate to be able to get those (four) girls to come here and compete for us."
That tradition has remained for Corvallis, though it's their arms that may very well carry the team to its record seventh-straight title.
Sophomore discus thrower Calla Haldorson is the only returning champion from last year’s state team. To repeat she’s going to have to fend off her teammate, senior Brookelyn Palin.
“The competition is right in front of you and they work with you every single day, but it also makes you stronger and a stronger competitor mentally,” said Palin after she and Haldorson finished 1-2 at Corvallis' Sapphire Twilight meet in April.
The two have gone back and forth this season.
On May 13 in Polson, Haldorson not only posted the state’s best mark of the season, but she broke her 22-year-old school record with a toss of 148 feet, 8 inches in the discus.
Although the school record took over two decades to break, Haldorson's new mark didn’t last two weeks. Palin uncorked a throw of 149-04 last weekend to win the Western A Divisional. Junior Brooke Wiltbank is also in the mix, finishing third at divisionals and posting the fifth best mark in the state this season.
“I’m sure it’s a little bit annoying, but those are the types of things that sharpen you up, those are the types of things that make you compete,” Huls said of the intra-squad battle. “When you come to big meets and come up against good competition, you’re used to it. It helps us get ready for the big ones.”
Big ones like the state meet this weekend where the Corvallis girls go for lucky No. 7.
To do it, they’ll need their throwers and team-depth to take down a Belgrade school that’s actually the favorite this year, according to montanatrack.com.
“The Belgrade girls have so much up at the top. Pipi Eitel could win five events by herself,” Huls said of the Panthers’ long-distance runner and defending state champ.
On the boys’ side, Sidney and Dillon are projected to be top scorers at state, although Columbia Falls and Corvallis are expected to be among the contenders. Wildcats’ Sage Wanner and Dakota Bridwell have top marks in the 3,200 and javelin, respectively, this season.
Corvallis’ Cole Wohltman, Bruce Thomas, Ridge Albright and Jake Jessop have the second-fastest 1,600 relay time, according to athletic.net, and 20 other Blue Devil boys ranked in the Top 10 of Class A athletes.
“We’re bringing 42 athletes (between the boys and girls) to state which I believe is a record for us – I can’t remember bringing more kids,” Huls said.
Other top Class A marks from for area girls include Polson’s Bea Frissell in the 3,200 and Frenchtown’s Emilie Hinrichs in the high jump. Hamilton’s Reilly Rostad, who holds the best long jump in Class A so far this season, is second to Corvallis’ Ceara Chavez’s top triple jump distance.
In Class C, Alex Bohlman’s success in a wide array of events has the Seeley-Swan girls poised to bring home some state hardware.
After winning the Class C title in 2014, the Blackhawks have had to settle for silver twice. In both 2015 and 2016 Seeley missed the title by four points – or a single fourth-place finish.
Bohlman, who won the 100, 200 and javelin at last weekend’s Western C Divisional, is among the Top 4 best competitors in those three events across the state, according to athletic.net. Fractions of seconds separate her best time from the year’s best marks, and she has the farthest javelin throw in Class C.
“We always thought she’d be a pretty good heptathlete, she’s so multi-talented,” Seeley coach Mike Haines said of Bohlman. “Not too many girls who can throw the javelin 145 feet and high jump over 5 feet.”
But Bohlman will have some competition in the sprints from other speedsters. Drummond’s Claire Fickler, the defending 100-meter champ, lost by just .01 seconds to Bohlman at divisionals. St. Regis’ Madison Hill was just .02 seconds off the winning pace.
Arlee’s Carly Hergett returns to defend her 100 hurdle state title, and Natalie Yocum looks to capture a 1,600 crown like she did at divisionals, where the Scarlets took second as a team to Seeley.
Valley Christian's Naiya Beaudin has the best mark in Class C for triple jump, although Hergett and Ennis' Jourdain Klein bested her at the Western C.
Plains' Jessica Thompson has the classification’s best discus and shot put distances this season as she tries to help her Trotters to a fifth straight state title and second since dropping from Class B to Class C.
For the boys, Drummond’s Mark Estes was the divisional champ in the 100, 200, 400 and the junior is the defending triple jump champ. Darby’s Evan Duggan, who won state cross country, is a favorite in the two long-distance races, though Seeley’s Logan Maughan, who won the 800 at divisionals, is right on Duggan’s heels in the 1,600.
Both ran their best times of the season last weekend, with Maughan just 2.1 seconds off Duggan’s winning pace.
“It just comes down to who makes the right decision in those races, runs well and stays out of trouble,” Haines said of the two boys.
Darby’s Kye McCollaum in the hurdles and John Beckers in the javelin also head into state as division champs.
The ultimate prize of a state title, however, still awaits.