The 2021 Montana high school track and field season is under way, as athletes started competing as early as March 27.
It's been a long time coming after the entire 2020 season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. That canceled season was devastating for many seniors who graduated last spring, and it's still resulting in uncertainty as the 2021 season gets kicked off.
Who are the athletes to watch this spring? Typically, fans are able to peruse lists of returning state champions or placers to get a starting point. That's not the case this year, as only a handful of reigning state champions return. After all, for a reigning state champion to be competing in 2021, he or should would have had to have been a freshman or sophomore in 2019.
There are a few athletes, though -- five boys and nine girls -- looking to defend their state titles when the guns fire for the state meets in late May. Breakouts on those 14 athletes are below.
Missoula Sentinel, Huntley Project and Scobey are defending boys team champions, while Laurel and Dillon tied for the Class A title in 2019. Bozeman, Whitefish and Seeley-Swan won girls championships in 2019, while Baker and Huntley Project tied for the Class B title.
This year's State AA and C meets are scheduled for May 28-29 in Missoula, while the State A and B meets are scheduled for the same days in Laurel. To view the state qualifying standards for each class, please click here.
Returning individual state champions
Wyatt Barney, sr., Manhattan
As a sophomore, Wyatt Barney qualified for the Class B state meet in both the 400- and 800-meter runs. He won a state title for the Tigers in the 800, crossing the finish line in a personal-best time of 1:57.91. He struggled in the 400 in 2019 but placed fifth in the event with a time of 51.16 seconds in 2018 as a freshman.
Noah Bouchard, sr., Huntley Project
One of the best athletes in the entire state, Noah Bouchard is coming off a standout basketball season at Huntley Project. He's an even better performer in the high jump, though, and he's already garnered interest from big-time college programs. He won the Class B state high jump title in 2019 clearing 6 feet, 8 inches. He was also second in the 110-meter hurdles (14.94 seconds) and fifth in the long jump (20-9.5).
Paul Hardy, sr., Fairview
Hardy marked a personal-best throw of 143-06 to win the discus at the 2019 Class C state meet to win the state title as a sophomore. Now a senior, Hardy has signed to throw at Minot (N.D.) State and enters the 2021 Montana high school season as one of the athletes to watch in both the discus and shot put.
Riley Schott, sr., Manhattan Christian
Schott is the two-time reigning Class C state champion in the 3,200-meter run, winning the title in 2018 as a freshman with a time of 10:07.07 and the 2019 championship as a sophomore with a time of 9:58.42. He also just missed scoring points in the 2019 1,600, finishing in seventh place. Schott, now a senior, is also a standout cross country runner, claiming top-three finishes each of his four years, including a state title as a sophomore.
Jack Waddell, sr., Laurel
Waddell is one of the premier athletes in Class A and helped Laurel to a state football championship in the fall. He won the 200-meter dash in 22.46 seconds and placed second in the 400 (49.74 seconds) as a sophomore at Livingston at the 2019 Class A state meet. He also placed second in the 400 (50.86) as a freshman. He's signed to play football at Rocky Mountain College.
Mikenna Ells, sr., Whitefish
As a sophomore in 2019, Ells qualified for the Class A state meet in the 400- and 800-meter runs and the high jump for the second consecutive season. She was sixth in the 400 and fourth in the 800 as a freshman and improved on those finishes in 2019, winning the 400 in a personal-best time of 57.47 seconds and placing third in the 800 at 2:23.09.
Carlee Fryberger, sr., Charlo
Fryberger has been a regular at the Class C state meet, competing in the 100, 200, 100 hurdles and triple jump as a freshman in 2018 and the 100, 200 and 100 hurdles as a sophomore. She set personal records in the 100 (12.7 seconds) and 100 hurdles (15.81) to claim gold medals in both at the 2019 state meet. She also added a third-place finish in the 200 (26.54) and ran legs on both of Charlo's third-place relay teams.
Klaire Kovatch, sr., Seeley-Swan
Kovatch is a two-time Class C state champion in the discus, winning the 2018 title with a mark of 135-03 and the 2019 championship with a throw of 144-02. She also ran legs on both of Seeley-Swan's relay teams in 2019, helping the Blackhawks to the team title. Kovatch, who has a personal-best discus throw of 150-02 and has signed with the Colorado State track and field program, started the 2021 season with an impressive 149-05 mark at the Blue Devil Invitational on March 27. The all-class state record, which can only be set at the state meet, is 157 feet, set by Brooke Kearns of Missoula Big Sky in 2018.
Keaton Lynn, jr., Three Forks
Keaton Lynn had her biggest performance on the biggest stage as a freshman for Three Forks in 2019, marking a personal-best 17-00.25 long jump to win the state title. It was her best mark by more than a foot, as she topped a competitive long jump field that included her sister Kendall finishing in third place.
Sariah Maughan, jr., Seeley-Swan
As a freshman in 2019, Maughan competed at the Class C state meet in the 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter runs, placing sixth, second and first, respectively. She also ran legs on Seeley-Swan's 400- and 1,600-meter relay teams, which placed second and first. Maughan, who won the 1,600 with a time of 5:23.15 at the 2019 Sate C meet, has also placed at the Class C state cross country meet each of the past three years. She won the state cross country title in 2018, placed fourth in 2019 and finished sixth in 2020.
Brynnli Poulsen, sr., Hamilton
Poulsen is one of the most accomplished high school distance runners in Montana, winning Class A state cross country championships each of the past two years, placing second in 2018 and finishing sixth in 2017. She started her track career with fourth-place finishes in both the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs at the 2018 Class A state meet and placed second in both events in 2019 as a sophomore. She won the state title in the 800-meter run with a personal-best time of 2:17.86 in 2019 and begins her senior track season as one of the top competitors in the distance races.
Ainsley Shipman, jr., Dillon
Shipman burst onto the Class A track and field scene as a freshman in 2019, sweeping the hurdles at the state meet. She recorded personal records in both races, winning the 100-meter hurdles in 15.98 seconds and the 300 hurdles in 46.92. She also placed second in the triple jump at state, marking a jump of 37-01.5.
Kellan Wahl, sr., Billings Central, 25.88 (200)
Wahl already started her senior track season sweeping the sprints at her season-opening meet on Tuesday. She ran in both at the 2019 Class A state meet, winning the 200-meter dash in 25.88 seconds, a personal record, and placing second in the 100 in 12.56 seconds. She also qualified for state in the 400 and triple jump. As a freshman in 2018, Wahl placed third in the 100, second in the 200 and fourth in the triple jump at the State A meet.
Odessa Zentz, jr., Helena High
Still just a junior, Zentz enters the 2021 track and field season as the only reigning Class AA state champion, boys or girls, with a chance to repeat. She won both the 400- and 800-meter runs at the 2019 state meet, crossing the finish line in 57.75 seconds and 2:14.25, respectively. Montana runners have a strong history in the middle-distance races, and Zentz is undoubtedly one of the girls to watch this season.