High School SportsHigh School Track and Field


High octane: Energetic Billings Skyview track coach Lewis Polkow emphasizes small details for big moments

Billings Skyview track coach Lewis Polkow
Billings Skyview's Cienna Soens
Billings Skyview's Ryan Dierenfield
Polkow notebook.jpg
Posted at 3:15 PM, Apr 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-16 17:25:55-04

BILLINGS — There goes a streak of blue and black — more accurately, royal blue on the top and black on the bottom — darting across the infield.

While Billings Skyview athletes are on the track running relay races, Falcons coach Lewis Polkow runs his own race inside the oval, trying to go station to station, checking baton handoffs, encouraging his runners, urging them on.

Or there Polkow is at the start of the 200-meter dash and with the firing of the gun he’s on the go, trying to get to the finish line to be the pick-me-up if one of his runners is in need or acknowledge an athlete’s personal record in the moment rather than later.

Some days, particularly on the big meets where Polkow doesn’t have to marshal an event himself, it’s debatable who’s exerted more energy, the coach or his athletes.

Polkow comes from a family of hurdlers. His dad, Dave, ran at the University of Montana. Three Polkow siblings (Lucas, Lewis and Logan) all ran at Skview. So Lewis Polkow simply can’t help himself.

“It’s just pure excitement about what the kids are doing,” Polkow said. “I kind of live vicariously through them through my passion for track. When I see a kid come out and burn a 300 hurdle or rock-and-roll the 4-by-4 (1600-meter relay), I can’t help but get excited.”

There are several ways Polkow shows his passion for track, particularly the Skyview program. But “royal blue on the top, black on the bottom” is as good a place to start as any.

Cienna Soens has heard this slogan countless times. Her four years as a soccer player and hurdler at Skyview coincide with those of Polkow.

Billings Skyview's Cienna Soens
Billings Skyview senior Cienna Soens is one of the top hurdlers in the state for both the 100-meter and 300-meter events.

That saying has significant meaning to Polkow and thus to his athletes.

“Polkow is not just about going out there and running fast,” said Soens, one of the top hurdlers in the state who finished fifth in both the 100 and 300 versions at last year’s Class AA state meet. “It’s about our team. Even though track is kind of an individual sport, we still want to be united. He talks about doing all the little things right, and that’s what will lead you to be successful in the future.”

Polkow, 32, is soaked in the history of the Skyview track program. He was an all-state hurdler for the Falcons in 2010, finishing second to younger brother Landon in the 300-meter finals. That year, 2010, happens to be the last time the Skyview boys won a state team title in track and field.

After setting records at Montana State Billings — which would later be eclipsed by Landon again — Polkow returned to Skyview as an assistant track coach in 2015. Polkow went to Miles City as an assistant track and cross country coach the next year before once again returning to his alma mater in 2020 to take over the track program and also assist with the girls soccer team.

All the while, be it as an athlete himself or an assistant, he absorbed lessons learned from other coaches, like former Skyview coach Larry Newell and in Miles City with Paul Yoakam, who now coaches at Glasgow.

Polkow has melded all that information into his own tenets: Have passion for the job, have a connection with each athlete, and make sure each competitor feels a part of the collective rather than just an individual.

That’s why Polkow demands his athletes wear the Skyview royal blue on the top, black on the bottom.

“You know, a track team comes to a meet wearing all kinds of mismatched sweatshirts … it doesn’t sound like a big deal but it’s a really big deal to me,” Polkow said. “Because the team warm-up is the one time the thrower and the sprinter and the distance runner are in the same thing together. And it’s a big deal to me.”

Truthfully, everything is a big deal to Polkow. A new father (he and wife Elery had their first child, Emmett, in January), his high energy is contagious. But he also expects everyone in the program to pay attention to the smallest details. Polkow’s management style admittedly requires a lot of buy-in.

Ryan Dierenfield’s truth is he didn’t have that buy-in. Dierenfield didn’t participate in track and field at all until his freshman year at Skyview, and he found the individualism of the sport fit him.

About halfway through that freshman year, Dierenfield tore a hip flexor that he now attributes to not warming up properly. He wasn’t paying attention to the details, and it cost him the remainder of his season.

Billings Skyview's Ryan Dierenfield
Billings Skyview's Ryan Dierenfield is one of the state's top sprinters.

Despite the injury, Dierenfield was buoyed by his performance. But he also realized if he wanted to be successful, he’d have to be royal blue on top and black on the bottom all the time. So he bought in, and now, in his junior year, has the top 100 and second-best 200 sprint times in the state going into this week.

“(Polkow’s) energy vibrates throughout the whole team,” Dierenfield said. “I mean, just his passion makes other people want to be there and want to work harder than they ever thought they would and set goals and set PRs that they thought would never be possible. It's solely from just how excited he makes people to be there.”

Polkow carries with him in his backpack a spiral notebook that details each year of his coaching tenure, finishes at state, coaches of those teams, things like that.

As one who continually questions his techniques and coaching abilities, Polkow uses that notebook to help remind him of the significance of the program. Where it’s been, and, he hopes, where he can take it.

Polkow notebook.jpg
Billings Skyview track coach Lewis Polkow carries with him a notebook to detail historical data during his coaching tenure.

Skyview’s girls finished in fourth place last year, just 2 1/2 points out of third and four points out of second. That would have been their first state-meet trophy since 2015. As for the boys, the Falcons haven’t earned a trophy since that 2010 title.

As much as Polkow cherishes building relationships with the athletes and helping them enjoy their track and field experience, he’s also very competitive. Admittedly, he wants to coach a state championship team — who doesn’t? — and the notebook is the results-driven part of his equation.

That’s just part of the mix, though.

Polkow keeps on his classroom wall notes his former athletes have written to him to serve as reminders to also keep things personal.

Finishing just out of the girls trophy race last season was “devastating” to him, Polkow said. But then getting on the bus afterward, saying goodbye to all his seniors, made him realize what he enjoys about coaching.

“It always goes back to am I making a difference?” Polkow said. “I'm kind of obsessive on that point. The reason I coach and teach is to make a difference. Because if I'm not making a difference, then I’ve got some things I’ve got to reevaluate.”

According to Soens, who hopes to be a pilot one day, there is no reevaluation necessary. She laughs about her soccer experience with Polkow.

Soens said Polkow didn’t know much about soccer and was with the program to mostly be a sprinting coach. But his presence was a boost, even if he couldn’t tell them how to score more goals or be a better defender.

“Just seeing him run around soccer field just brought joy to all of us,” she said. “I hope if I was ever to be a coach, I would definitely want to be like that.”

Always royal blue on top, black on the bottom.