Though Jim Stanton is in his 13th season as the head football coach at Billings Central, his 22nd overall, the first day of practice still carries something new.
“You really have to respect that this is a new group,” Stanton said Friday evening after the Rams had wrapped up practice, the first scheduled day for the fall sports. “Even though it’s old hat for us as coaches, it’s new to them and you can see the energy that they have and you definitely pick up on that. For the seniors, this is their last go, and it’s always a positive thing.”
Year in, year out, there’s always something positive happening for the Rams. They’ve appeared in seven consecutive Class A championship games and even in years when there’s plenty of turnover — Central had just three returning starters last season and have nine seniors out for football this year — winning hasn’t been a problem.
And if there are any worries of the program getting complacent with all that success, Stanton said he tackles that issue early on.
“We talk a lot about that you have to work harder and harder than you have in the past,” he said. “We hit the kids a lot with ‘that’s behind you now. That was accomplished last year and that dissolves. You just have to look at the opportunities in front of you.’ ”
Whatever magic Stanton and the Rams have going on at Central, Laurel football coach Mike Ludwig knows it’s a real roadblock.
‘We just have to get prepared for the Eastern A,” said the 13-year coach, whose team made the playoffs last season with a 7-4 record despite being ravaged by injuries. “And it starts by going through Billings Central.”
Over at Billings Senior, volleyball coach Jeff Carroll is implementing something he hasn’t tried in a while. Friday was the first day — summer camps excluded, of course — for the Broncs to work on a two-setter system Carroll last used in 1997 as the team prepares to defend its two consecutive Class AA titles.
The Broncs graduated five seniors from last year’s championship team, with the loss of setter Jace Henderson, a two-time Gatorade player of the year, leaving perhaps the biggest void. In his revamped offense, Carroll will rely on juniors Brianna Bromgard and Jeananne Lemelin, neither of whom is listed over 5-foot-8, to take over for the 6-foot Henderson, who could play all rotations and was a big factor at the net defensively.
“Both setters are good and they’re going to be better,” said Carroll, who begins his 29th season at Senior. “If our performance at a couple team camps over the summer is any indication, I think we’re going to be very competitive.”
On the soccer pitch, Skyview has turned to former player Cameron Icenoggle to get the Falcons back to the State AA boys tournament for the first time since the school made back-to-back trips in 2007-08.
Icenoggle was on those teams — he was a defender in ’07, an all-conference goalkeeper in ‘08 and an all-state midfielder in ’09 — so he thinks he has a sense of what it will take to make the Falcons a state-tournament team again.
“What we did best back then, and it’s been my big focus, was really our fitness level,” he said. “We used to say we weren’t the best team, but we were the toughest.”
Icenoggle, who assisted Skyview girls coach John Wisler the past two seasons, said that in Friday’s first practice session the players didn’t even get to touch a soccer ball. Instead it was early-morning weights and other fitness drills. For Icenoggle, one of the questions he had about his new team was how would they handle his “get-tough” approach. Just fine, it turned out.
“I told them from Day 1 in the summer to be ready for tough tryouts,” he said. “I thought they did a very good job of holding themselves accountable over the summer and being ready for today.”