With the Lolo National Forest looming to the west, this Friday and Saturday several boys and girls swimming teams will be splashing about the University of Montana’s Grizzly Pool in dogged pursuit of 2015 Montana High School Association (MHSA) state titles.
Among the participating Class AA high schools in this year’s meet in Missoula are Billings Senior, Billings Skyview, Billings West, Bozeman, Butte, C.M. Russell, Great Falls, Flathead, Glacier, Helena Capital, Helena, Missoula Big Sky/Loyola, Missoula Hellgate and Missoula Sentinel.
On the Class A-B side are Bigfork, Billings Central, Columbia Falls, Hardin, Havre and Whitefish.
According to longtime MHSA swimming rules interpreter and two-term NFHS Swimming and Diving Rules Committee member Merle Gunderson, certain teams stand out as pre-tournament favorites for both genders.
“Among the teams to watch in Class AA will be the Missoula Hellgate boys and girls as they have been at the top in meets this year,” Gunderson opined. “The next two or three teams would include the Bozeman girls and boys and then the C.M. Russell girls team. With the way the meet runs with the two classes swimming at the same time for the same points, the scoring can change throughout the meet and affect the overall finishes in each class.
“In Class A-B, the top team over the past several years has been Billings Central and it seems to still be in the lead again this year. That could change at the meet as this year we added two more schools in Class A-B and they have some experienced swimmers on the two new teams.”
Since the MHSA split swimming into two enrollment classifications in 1996, Billings Central has won the most Class A state titles for both boys (nine) and girls (eight), while Bozeman owns the most Class AA girls championships (nine, including seven consecutive from 1996 to 2002), and its 11 Class AA boys crowns leads that gender.
In the old one-class configuration, Flathead Kalispell’s six championships leads the girls, while both Bozeman and Havre captured six boys state titles.
Interestingly, both the Billings Central boys and girls programs own the Decade of the 2010s as they enter this weekend’s state meet having each won the past five state titles.
At this year’s meet are several returning state champions who hope to repeat their success.
* Among the boys, Adam Zimmer of Missoula Big Sky/Loyola won the 200 IM and 100 Breaststroke in 2014 as a freshman and is in both of those events this year as a sophomore.
* Patrick Brennan of C.M. Russell won the 100 Butterfly in 2014 as a sophomore and is entered in the 100 Butterfly and 200 IM this year as a junior.
* Pierce Ola of Billings Central won the 200 Free in 2013 and 2014 and the 100 Breaststroke in 2013, and is entered in the 50 Free and 100 Free this year as a senior.
* On the girls’ side, Andrea Schmidt of Missoula Sentinel won the 100 Free and 200 Free in 2014 as a junior and is entered in the 100 Butterfly and 50 Free this year as a senior.
* Hanni Leach of Missoula Hellgate won the 100 Backstroke in 2012, 2013 and 2014 and the 100 Free in 2013 and the 500 Free in 2014, and is entered in the 100 Backstroke and 200 Free this year as a senior.
“The last MHSA state event held at the University of Montana was in 2004 and the MHSA is looking forward to being back on the U of M campus for this year’s state swim meet,” said MHSA Executive Director Mark Beckman. “We are pleased that the city of Missoula and the U of M are once again actively bidding our state events as this college facility will create a lifetime of memories for the swimmers and fans alike.
“We would also like to thank our major corporate sponsors – NorthWestern Energy, U.S. Bank, Farmers Union Insurance, the Montana Army National Guard and Your Local Ford Stores.”