GREAT FALLS — The last time the Great Falls High softball team took the field, they hoisted a state championship trophy at the end of the game.
But after almost two years, a few things have changed.
The 2019 State AA championship was the second in a row for the Bison. With a talented class set to return, including two-time Gatorade Player of the Year Anna Toon, they were primed for a third straight title before the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.
The players that are still here understand the bigger picture, but the lost opportunity still hurts.
"All those girls I've been playing with since I was five or six years old, so not being able to play with them and finish out our season was really disappointing," senior infielder Morgan Sunchild said. "(It was) a different feeling than expected because it's not taken away because you lost or something. It's taken away by something you can't control. So that was definitely the hardest part."
Now that that group is gone, Sunchild will be one of five senior leaders tasked with helping this relatively young roster get up to speed.
Another change for Great Falls is at head coach, where longtime assistant Don Meierhoff is now at the helm. Meierhoff took over on an interim basis when Mike Coleman stepped down prior to last season, and has since been hired full-time. Meierhoff said that although every team in the state will face hurdles getting back in softball shape, he specifically regrets that his Bison underclassmen missed such a potentially great year.
"They didn't get that experience of playing with (the older group). So we're just trying to, it's just like we started all over. It's brand new," Meierhoff said. "These girls, the sophomores are sophomores. But really, they're freshmen. So I got two classes of freshmen doing stuff."
Great Falls High has been known for dominant pitching and power hitting in recent years, but that could be different in 2021.
"I think we're a little faster than we were last year," Meierhoff said. "We had a little more power last year, but you never know. We might be playing a whole different ball."
But despite the changes and the lost opportunities, the Bison just feel good to back out on the field. A little bit of nice weather helps.
"Everybody is chomping at the bit to get out. Normally this time of year, we're always indoors," Meierhoff said. "But they're begging me to come outside. And so we're outside doing it now. That's how excited they are."
The Bison will open the season at home against Helena Capital and Helena High on April 6.