SIDNEY — The Sidney boys track and field team waited nearly 60 years for the opportunity to defend a State A championship.
Mother Nature forced the Eagles, who last spring won the program’s first state title since 1959, to wait a little longer. Like many around Montana, Sidney got its track season off to a slow start, with weather canceling early-season meets and moving practices indoors.
“Whether we’re (practicing) inside or outside, we can’t control the weather,” said Sidney senior Alec Lovegren. “We’re finally getting outside to get going. When we had the snow and everything, it’s nothing we could control, so we just had to power through it.”
Lovegren is one of just a few returning members from that state championship team. Last year, he was the only junior on the Eagles’ championship-winning 400-meter relay team. The other three legs — Trace Jones, Michael McGinnis and Dawson McGlothlin — all graduated, leaving Lovegren as the one of the elder leaders on this year’s team.
A sprinter, Lovegren has taken the younger runners under his wing on the track.
“We have a couple fast young guys, I’ve taught them how to run faster,” Lovegren said. “I wasn’t that fast, then toward the end of the year, something clicked and I got my knees up when I run. There’s tricks they’ve got to learn to get faster.”
While there’s tricks the younger runners need to learn, there are tendencies Lovegren needs to learn. After running with Jones, McGinnis and McGlothlin for the majority of his career, Lovegren has three new teammates on the short relay.
Sidney’s run in just two meets so far this season, winning the 400 relay at the Glendive Quad and placing seventh at the Billings Invite. The Eagles’ top time of 45.61 seconds ranks eighth in Class A.
“It’s definitely different having to learn how other guys like to hand off, trying to coach these guys almost,” Lovegren said. “Last year, we would all show up, we were all comfortable with each other. This year, I’ve got to go get all the guys when it’s time for the relay, do warmups. We’re definitely getting faster. We’ve had some bad handoffs, so we’ve got to get that done right now.”
Individually, Lovegren ran in the finals of both the 100- and 200-meter dashes at last year’s state meet. He finished just off the podium, but Lovegren currently has Class A’s fourth-fastest time in the 200, putting him in position to ultimately battle for points at the state meet.
One place Sidney is almost assured points at the state meet is in the field events, where the Hughes brothers will defend their three state titles. Garrison Hughes, a senior, already has the Class A record in the pole vault, while Carter Hughes, a junior, is the defending champion in both the shot put and the discus.
Carter Hughes has Class A’s top marks in both throws, and Garrison Hughes is three feet clear of the nearest Class A competitor in the pole vault, having cleared 16 feet at the Billings Invite.
“I like to go to those bigger meets around the country, because there’s always kids that are better than me,” said Garrison Hughes, who will continue his vaulting career at Nebraska. “(In Montana), I’ll warm up and then have to wait two, three hours to vault, depending on the meet. It’s a lot more mentally tough, because there’s no one pushing you.”
It’s a little easier for the younger Hughes to find motivation. All he has to do is look at the deep lists across the state. While Carter Hughes has sizable leads over Class A opponents in both events, Justin Jenks of Class AA Helena Capital has the state’s top shot put mark at 58 feet, 7 1/4 inches and Austin Forson of Class B Deer Lodge has the top discus mark at 187-04.
“I keep updated on all their stuff to see where they’re at and what they’ve been throwing,” Carter Hughes said. “Forson’s pretty far out there. Both of them just kind of drive me. Especially in the shot, I want to get the best mark in the state. The disc, I don’t know where I’m capable of, but I know I can get pretty close to the mid-180s, 190 by the end of the year.”
The Eagles are set to compete in the Sidney Invitational on Saturday, where Carter Hughes expects to improve on his season-best mark of 161-09 in the discus.
“If it’s not blowing too bad this weekend, I could have a good shot at hitting something a lot better,” he said.