Our favorite sports moments of 2023

There’s no end to the sporting action in the Flathead Valley. With five public high schools juggling nine or more sanctioned sports for boys and girls each season, numerous club activities for youth and adults, and an endless amount of outdoor activities to do year-round, it’s hard to downplay the highlights and storylines. lines. But that’s exactly what we tried to do. Here’s a collection of sports glory stories and opportunities we’ve looked at in 2023.


Victorious Valkyries

In their Class B swan song season, the Bigfork Valkyries hit historic highs, capping off an undefeated season with a state championship over Big Timber

Brayden Gunlock of the Bigfork Valkyries takes a shot against the Troy Lady Trojans defense in Bigfork on Feb. 2, 2023. Bigfork won 98-18. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

In the Bigfork High School gym in February, dozens of red, white and blue banners adorn the walls, denoting numerous state championships won by the Valkyries and Vikings over the years. Among the pennants heaping annual accolades on the football, cross country and boys basketball champions, however, there was a glaring omission: There was no banner for the girls basketball team, which never reached the pinnacle of high school athletic success.

This year, the Valkyries changed that. Read about the team here and their state championship win here.


Nordic athletes from Glacier shine at national competition

Maeve Ingelfinger won the skate sprint ad U18 USSA Junior National Championship, adding to GNC’s small but mighty presence on the national stage

Maeve Ingelfinger competes in the Glacier Glide 10K Skate Ski Race in Whitefish on January 7, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

Three minutes and 34 seconds. That’s how long Whitefish skier Maeve Ingelfinger sprinted across the course at Fairbanks, Alaska’s Birch Hill Recreation Area on Tuesday to win the individual skate sprint title at the U18 U18 Nationals.

Competing in a series of three Nordic ski races at the Junior Nationals (JNs) in Fairbanks, Ingelfinger took third in the 7.5km classic on Monday before winning two heats in the skate sprint on Tuesday to advance to the afternoon final with the fastest qualifying time. Weather delayed the sprint heats in the late afternoon, putting Maeve in line for the early evening finish. Read more here.


Best of Prep – Winter 2023

Justin Windauer, Columbia Falls High School wrestler. Mar 14, 2023 Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

Among the many athletes recognized from the 2022-2023 winter sports season, Justin Windauer’s individual championship was a standout as he helped the Wildcats win the program’s second team wrestling title.

School: Columbia Falls
Class: Senior
State tournament: Champion, 160 pounds

It can be difficult for a returning state champion to set higher goals for his final season, but Justin was in a unique position to raise the bar with a top-caliber Wildcats team backing him up. “The focus this year was again not so much on my own individual title, but on the team title. Winning my own title was just a step towards getting the team trophy.” From the start of the season, Justin said his teammates knew they would have a chance to win the Class A championship, and as the season progressed, their confidence just grew. “Starting with the first practice and going through every tournament, every kid stepped up and improved, and a lot of that is a testament to having seniors like Justin to look up to,” coach Jesse Schaefer said. At the state tournament, it was clear after the opening rounds that the Wildcats had a clear path to the championship if they wrestled “half as well as expected,” Justin said. “Obviously there’s always pressure at state, but all the guys responded super well.” They won by nearly 50 points.

Read about the rest of the top Flathead Valley high school athletes here.


Inaugural season of baseball bats

In the first year of baseball sanctioned by the Montana High School Association, the Whitefish Bulldogs reached the state finals.

Baseball practice. A photo of a beacon file

“These kids want to practice, they want to dive for baseball that might be out of reach,” Whitefish Bulldogs coach Kyler Blades said when the inaugural baseball season was postponed due to lingering winter weather. “They’re just excited to be out there wearing the green and gold.”

The late start didn’t dampen Whitefish’s power on the diamond, however, as the Bulldogs earned a trip to the first-ever MHSA state championship, coming up just short of a title against Paulson.


Pickleball offers a competitive social outlet

The Flathead Valley has wholeheartedly embraced the recreational and competitive sport, which has seen astronomical growth across the country

Players compete in the Crown of Continent PickleBall tournament at the Jewel Basin Center in Bigfork on August 12, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

For three days in early August, a wave of hit, hit and dinks could be heard around Jewel Basin Center near Bigfork.

The source of the commotion was the Crown of the Continent Pickleball Tournament, the largest pickleball event in the Flathead Valley and a stop on the American Senior Pickleball Tournament. Bigfork’s Two Rivers Pickleball Club hosted the tournament for the third year, drawing more than 250 players to its world-class pickleball facility.

“We’ve really become a destination tournament for players from all over the country,” said Keith Ory, co-manager of the Two Rivers Pickleball Club and co-owner of the Jewel Basin Center. “We hear time and time again that the tournament and our facility are just great and bring a special vibe.” Read more here.


On deck

The Whitefish Skatepark Association completed a fundraising campaign to expand the Dave Olseth Memorial Skatepark earlier this year and construction was completed in late summer, offering additional opportunities for local skateboarders

The completed expansion of the Dave Olsett Memorial Skatepark in Whitefish as seen on September 29, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

After nearly two years of fundraising, building and dreaming up a new future for skateboarding in the Flathead Valley, the expanded Dave Olsett Memorial Skatepark is now open in Whitefish.

On a Friday afternoon in late September, a dozen skateboarders and cyclists of all ages traversed the brand new sections of the park. Older skaters taught the newcomers the lay of the land, and parents watched as elementary age kids took test runs on their scooters. Read about the expanded skatepark here.

Following the success in Whitefish, a potential location was also identified for the Columbia Falls Skatepark.


Roller Derby Returns

Three years after COVID halted all roller derby battles, members of Flathead Valley Roller Derby are ready to begin competitive skating

The Big Mountain Misfits of Flathead Valley take on the Hel’z Belles of Helena in a roller derby at the Flathead County Fairgrounds in Kalispell on February 29, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

The last time Jeanne Langan laced up her skates, wrote the number 63 on her upper arm and pulled out her racing alter ego, Veruca Slaughter, was on February 29, 2020.

Fortunately for Langan, she won’t have to wait until the next leap year to hit the rink.

Langan is a member of the Big Mountain Misfits roller derby team in Kalispell, a sport that has been on hiatus for three years since the pandemic first hit Montana. Read more here.


Third time’s the charm: Whitefish Bulldogs win Class A girls soccer final

The Whitefish Bulldogs defeated the Columbia Falls Wildkats 3-1 on Oct. 28 at Smith Fields

Whitefish Bulldogs’ Bryn Morse finishes for a shot against the Columbia Falls Wildcats’ goal in the Class A championship game at Smith Fields in Whitefish on Oct. 28, 2023. Whitefish won 3-1. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

After close contentions in 2020 and 2022, the Whitefish Bulldogs finally lifted the Class A state soccer championship trophy Saturday after a 3-1 victory over the Columbia Falls Wildcats.

The win adds a third title to the program’s storied history, which has seen the Bulldogs in championship games seven times since 2006, the last time they came out on top.

“They always say you’re trying to break through a glass ceiling, but I felt like it was a titanium wall we were trying to get through,” Whitefish coach Roland Benedict said after the game. “It feels amazing.” Read about the championship game here.


Best of Prep — Fall 2023

The best way to capture the successes of local athletes for the season is with our photo shoot and recording of the best of training. Football, golf, cross country, flag and track and field athletes from the Flathead Valley shined on the fairways, greens and gridirons this fall.

Sam Engelant of the Glacier High School golf course pictured in Kalispell on Nov. 27, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat Head Beacon

School: Glacier
Class: Junior
State Tournament: 2nd place

During the first golf tournament of the year, Sam recalls playing the back nine, talking to his teammates about who they thought might emerge as the individual champion later in the year. Several names of top players were bandied about before someone mentioned it to Sam. “I was skeptical when I heard that. I mean, I had to come a long way to get to the top, so to see me get there and finish tied for first was a weird full-circle moment for me.” It certainly felt like a long road to the state tournament for Engellant, who missed his sophomore season due to a cerebral spinal fluid leak. He missed months of school, but was cleared for low-intensity activities after the surgery and spent the fall golf season as the team’s manager. “It was really exciting to see the game from that perspective. And it really came in handy when I finally got back. I mean, I just appreciate everything so much more. Having tournaments is something I took for granted, but I really have a new love for every single opportunity I get to play.” His recovery and subsequent return to full-strength play was relatively quick this year, and Engellant was soon staring at the top of the podium. For the second year in a row, the Class AA individual title came down to a playoff. Engellant and Skyview’s Tye Boone birdied the first playoff hole, but Engellant dropped his putt on the second. However, his second-place finish was high enough to help the Wolfpack storm to the team title. “At the start of the season we knew we were going to be good, but it takes a lot of work to make that happen. When we found out we had won, it was just this gathering of absolute excitement and joy at what we had done. Knowing you have a special ability and talent and then seeing it play out is pretty cool.

Check out the full Best of Preps lineup here.

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