MISSOULA — Helena High's Odessa Zentz wasted no time in reminding everyone how dominant she is on the track.
The Bengal junior defended her Class AA 400- and 800-meter state titles with wins in both events on Friday to open the State AA track and field meet at MCPS Stadium. Zentz won both events in 2019 as a freshman while the 2020 season was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zentz took the gold in the 400 with a time of 57.21 seconds. She won the 800 in 2:12.55.
Thanks to her performance, the Bengals hold a slim lead over Missoula Hellgate for the top team score after the opening day. Helena scored 47 points while Hellgate has 42 and Missoula Sentinel finished with 41.
Zentz credited her offseason training last spring to her performance on Friday and said keeping the love for the sport was the biggest key for her when 2020 was ultimately lost.
"I'm just so grateful that we got a season this year," Zentz said. "Getting here (Friday) morning, I just saw everybody and it almost made me tear up because I love state. You get so much adrenaline, there's so many people that cheer you on. I think special things always happen here so it's a really special moment for everybody."
PARKS OVERCOMES INJURY EN ROUTE TO TITLE
The Knights took home a pair of first-place finishes on the day. Kensey May, the reigning Class AA state cross country champion, won the 3,200 in 10:47.19, and Mara Parks added a win in the shot put at 38 feet, 5.75 inches.
Parks' victory comes after a plethora of injuries made an already-challenging season more difficult. Donning a large brace on her right knee, Parks said she was rock climbing one month ago and slipped and dislocated her kneecap. After missing a couple of meets, she was able to compete with a brace, but two weeks before state she rolled her left ankle while practicing. Initially thinking it was just a roll, that injury turned out to be a dislocated ankle that once it relocated, it fractured and chipped one of her bones.
It was a pair of unusual injuries in a long string of ailments Parks has dealt with throughout high school, but to cap it off with a state title for Hellgate made it extra special knowing what she'd overcome.
"It feels awesome to be here, especially as a senior," Parks said. "My only goal this year was to be able to throw because of all of my injuries and I think that helped me get past the hurdle of being in my brain too much and let me get here."
JACKSON, STAYNER LEAD SENTINEL ON FIRST DAY
The Spartans' day was led by Anja Jackson winning the javelin with a throw of 129-05, while Brooke Stayner won the long jump with a leap of 18-07. Stayner put up a big day as the Spartan junior also took the top time in the 200-meter dash and 100 hurdle prelims, both of which will be run as finals on Saturday.
FROM SNAPPED POLE TO STATE CHAMP
Other winners on the day included Emma Zimmerman of Billings West, who vaulted 11-09 to win the AA pole vault title. West's 400-relay team of Chloe Davies, Taylee Chirrick, Jaeden Wolff and Kaitlin Grossman also won with a time of 48.76.
Zimmerman's path to being a state champion brings her high school career full circle. Two years ago at the State AA meet in Kalispell, Zimmerman's pole snapped on one of her attempts. Then last year was canceled during a year she had big hopes for herself, but it all came to fruition on Friday. Zimmerman didn't vault until everyone had finished already and cleared 11-03 with ease before getting over 11-09 to distance herself even more.
"I'm super excited, initially I was really overwhelmed. Definitely one of my goals, so I was super happy to accomplish it," said Zimmerman, who will compete collegiately at Montana.
Bozeman High's Hannah Schonhoff also earned a victory as she matched her season-best with a leap of 5-07 to win the high jump, as she edged out Butte's Anna Trudnowski who finished at 5-06. Belgrade's Jordan Cassidy has the fastest 100-meter prelim time at 12.52 as well.
DISTANCE RACERS PACE SENTINEL TO BIG LEAD
On the boys side of the meet, Sentinel holds a big lead after the first day with 69 points. The Spartans lead Hellgate and Butte which scored 30 and 29 points, respectively.
William Mortenson grabbed a win in the 3,200 for the Spartans, a race that saw four of the top six placers hail from Sentinel. Tanner Klumph finished in second while Chase Green was fourth and Corbin Johnson took sixth as the 3,200 race accounted for 24 of Sentinel's 69 points. Jace Klucewich added another victory for the Spartans as he won the long jump with a mark of 21-06.75.
Mortenson recently moved to Missoula from a small town in Colorado and is in his first year as a distance racer with the Spartans. He credited his teammates as being accepting and welcoming of him once he got to Montana as a big reason behind his success on Friday.
"For me a state championship is absolutely amazing," Mortenson said. "It's something I've fought for pretty much my whole high school career. I've had races that have been pretty rough at state championships in previous years and for it to finally come together in one race and to see all of my training pay off is just absolutely amazing. As a team, to see four of our Spartans place so well in the 3,200 was also absolutely amazing."
WADE BECOMES CHAMP IN FIRST YEAR IN TRACK AND FIELD
Hellgate's two Day 1 winners for the boys came from Josh Wade in the high jump, who won with a mark of 6-03, and Oregon signee Ignatius Fitzgerald, who won the 800 with a time of 1:56.00.
Wade has been a standout on the basketball court for Hellgate over the past two seasons where he has showcased his leaping ability with big dunks regularly. But 2021 was his first year competing in track and field with Wade saying he wanted to fill his time during the spring, and now walks away a state champion after doing just that.
"For basketball, we were co-state champions last year (in 2020) and this year it didn't go the way I wanted it, so it's just good to be a state champion and it feels great," Wade said. "Beginning of the season, progressed from like 5-06 to 6-03 which feels great. I hope we can perform (Saturday) and everyone gets the job done and we can get a state championship. That would be awesome."
OLSON WINS ON HOME TRACK
Missoula Big Sky's Kade Olson took home the gold in the 400 at his home track as the Eagles sit in fourth place as a team with 21 points.
Olson was Big Sky's lone winner on the day. He said the nerves were there all day waiting for the 400 to start, and to win it on his home track was a special moment for the senior.
"I love coming out here and representing Big Sky, it's one of my last chances to wear the Big Sky uniform," Olson said. "I wanted to do it for all of my coaches over the years that have really got me to where I am now and I was happy to bring it home to Big Sky."
SET UP FOR SATURDAY
Butte won the 400 relay and could be poised for a big day on Saturday. Tanner Huff finished with the fastest times in the 100 and 200 prelims and ran a leg on Butte's winning short relay. He was joined by Christian Vetter, Rylan Richards and Zach Merrifield.
West's Ryan DeVries finished with the top 110 hurdle prelim time of 14.95 heading into Saturday's final. Helena High's Josh Goleman won the shot put to start the day on Friday with a throw of 49-10.50.