Haley Gellner remembers walking away from the State AA track and field meet at Van Winkle Stadium in Bozeman last May unfulfilled. The entire Billings Skyview girls track team was, to be sure.
“We were disappointed. We didn’t show up,” said Gellner, a senior sprinter for the Falcons. “We could have done a lot better, but we kind of just went through (the motions).
“But I think this year having a lot of the same people back we’re going to be so much stronger and so much more motivated, especially after what we should have done at state.”
Skyview’s discouraging sixth-place finish at state laid the foundation for greater focus and higher expectations this season. And much of it has to do with the talent that's returning.
The Falcons bring back four placers from the state meet, including Gellner, who took third in the 200 and was a member of a title-winning 1,600-meter relay team.
Hailey Copinga placed in three events (high jump, long jump, 300 hurdles), Keegan Day scored in two (800, 1,600) and Aubree Mason placed in the discus. Javelin thrower, vaulter and 400 runner Shea Wacaser is also back, as is distance/mid-distance runner Amanda Nelson.
It adds up to 15th-year coach Larry Newell believing his deep and talented team can make a run at some big hardware. Perhaps even challenge four-time reigning champion and AA machine Billings Senior for the title.
It's not out of the realm of possibility, Newell said.
“We left a lot of points on the table last year,” Newell said. “We didn’t have a very good Friday. We had a little bit better Saturday, but we could have done a lot better job. Expectations are high this year. We’re hungry.”
It’s a long season, and the Falcons open the year a little banged up as Copinga, who competes in -- and has the ability to place in -- seven events, nurses a back injury. Copinga, a junior, may sit out five weeks.
But with the experience remaining, the Falcons will bide their time as the season progresses. They have plenty of veteran leadership, some of which will compete at the collegiate level: Wacaser has signed to throw the javelin at Weber State. Gellner will run at Montana.
Wacaser, like Copinga, is an all-around threat.
“Shealynn threw 135 (feet) last year in the javelin,” Newell said. “She can place in the pole vault, she’s also a sub-60 quarter-miler … Shea’s just an athlete. We can go a lot of different directions with Shea.”
Wacaser placed in the 400 at state as a sophomore. Gellner is an 11-time state placer.
“We have so much returning this year,” Gellner said. “We worked out really hard this winter, getting ready for this track season and getting ready to compete.”
The track and field season begins in earnest on Saturday. The Falcons travel to their first meet held in Great Falls.