MISSOULA – Another state tournament hits the pitch in Great Falls this weekend. And once again everyone will be trying to catch the Hellgate lacrosse boys. The Knights have won five straight titles while completely dominating Montana competition.

The program has become a well-oiled machine. But a new man is at the controls this year. Patrick Small stepped in as head coach after Kevin Flynn left the program. Small inherited a powerhouse. But he admits it hasn’t always been easy establishing a new more free-flowing style, to a team with many new faces, and the same old expectations.

“Teaching them something new every practice is tough when they are winning games 19-2, 19-1. They think they know it all. They’re high school kids, you know,” said Small. “But I’ve been trying to just integrate little things into them. Just trying to show them. I knew they were going to be stubborn in their ways. I also know that I was going to have the break through in a whole new crew. Then the expectations were there. Coming in knowing that you can’t really improve what’s been happening. You can improve their play as players. But you can’t beat a state championship. There’s only one way. It’s only down. So basically there was a lot of pressure there.”

The Knights are still the heavy favorites, and have not lost to a Montana team all season. But unlike the past couple years, Hellgate didn’t always cruise through this spring. They’ve been challenged a couple times, while learning under a new head coach, with a lot of new pieces playing a big role.

Story continues below

“We have a new goalie, new defense, new middies,” said senior attacker/midfielder Ben Hayataka. “And last year we had a pretty set team. We all played with each other since freshman year. So everyone kind of knew each other. And this year has been a little harder, because we’re learning new things.”

“There has been a little bit more adversity this year, just with a new system coming in,” admitted senior midfielder Max Triepke. “Our games have been a lot closer. And we graduated a lot of talent last year. So I feel like the biggest thing is if anything gets a little flustered or doesn’t go our way, just keep grinding. I feel like eventually if we play our game it will just fall our way.”

Hellgate brings the top seed from the West to the state lacrosse tournament. The bracket starts in Great Falls this Friday.