Montanan - Volume 15 Number 1
Montana's sports headlines have been dominated by glowing reports of the Grizzly football team, the Lady Griz and the men's basketball teams. Yet several of the University of Montana's other teamsthe rodeo, tennis, soccer and track and field squadshave been doing their part to uphold the proud tradition of Grizzly athletics.
Without question, one of the most successful UM sports teams this past season was the women's rodeo squad, which finished second to Weber State in the College National Rodeo Finals in Rapid City, South Dakota, this spring. The women were led by sophomore Rachel Myllymaki, who won the nation's barrel-racing championship, and senior Erlonna Mikkelson, who finished third in breakaway roping.
Based on their combined scores from ten rodeos during the season, UM's women finished at the top of the Big Sky's seven-team heap and earned the right to compete in the college finals by winning the Big Sky Region championship. Montana dominated the all-around competition, with Myllymaki finishing first, Mikkelson second, and senior Teresa Wolff third. The three swept the breakaway-roping competition, with Myllymaki the champion, followed by Wolff and Mikkelson. Myllymaki also won the regional barrel-racing title, while Mikkelson finished first in the Big Sky in goat tying.
The men's rodeo squad finished second in the Big Sky region to Western Montana College. UM junior Brett Fleming won the region's all-around championship, while freshman Bryant MikkelsonErlonna's brotherfinished third. Fleming captured the region's calf-roping crown, freshman Wes Tinsley was first in team roping, and junior Sean Gerlemen finished second in steer wrestling.
While they didn't earn any trophies, UM's tennis teams had their "best season ever," according to head coach Kris Nord. The men's and women's tennis teams eventually lost to champion Northern Arizona University in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference Tennis Championships, but Nord said the women "were a couple of games away from beating NAU and were playing Montana State in the finals, a team we knew we could beat and had beaten."
The highlight of Montana's tennis season was the performance of sophomore Vanessa Castellano, the first UM tennis player invited to compete in the NCAA Championships. In only her sophomore season, Castellano established herself as the best player in UM's history by competing among the NCAA's top sixty-four players in the country and ranking thirty-ninth in the nation.
Castellano won her first match in the NCAA, beating Maggie Cole from San Diego State, but lost a heartbreakingly close match to Stanford's Julie Scott in the second round. Scott was the singles champion in the Pac-10 Conference, and her Stanford squad won the women's national championship. Eventually Scott lost the NCAA's final match to finish second in the country.
Unfortunately for UM tennis fans, Castellano has decided to transfer to the University of Georgia for her final two years. A native of Barcelona, Spain, Castellano apparently was swayed by several factors. "She realizes that she can play on any team in the nation that she chooses to, and she's a little tired of the cold," said Nord, who also cited Georgia's strength as a team and the direct flights from Atlanta to Barcelona as factors in Castellano's decision.
One more factor that Castellano must have considered was that for five weeks at the start of every spring semester the tennis teams hold indoor practices at the Missoula Athletic Club that last until midnight. While warm weather teams can practice outside year-round, that's not an option in Montana. "There's only one indoor facility in town, and they're not going to give us prime time on the courts," Nord said. "It's tough in the middle of winter to be working out at the indoor courts instead of being in bed. It's a problem we face."
The only problem the UM's women's soccer team seems to face these days is how to find playing time for newcomers to the program. The Montana Women's Soccer Team has nine starters returning from a squad that went 15-4-1 last year and ranked ninth in the National Soccer Coaches Athletic Association's West Region poll.
That success is impressive for a team that has existed for only three years, and much of it can be attributed to head coach Betsy Duerksen, who has recruited some excellent players from around the Northwest and molded them into a fine squad during her three years in Missoula.
Since migrating east from Seattle University, Duerksen has guided Montana to a combined record of 34-19-1. Last season, the team lost by one goal in road contests at the University of San Francisco and at the University of Washington, and lost by two goals to Brigham Young University and the University of Wisconsin, which was rated eighteenth in the nation.
Montana's most impressive victory was a 1-0 decision over sixteenth-ranked San Diego State in a tournament at Pullman, Washington. The lone goal was scored by senior Sheralyn Fowler, Montana's leading scorer last season. Montana also lost its fourth-leading scorer, Megan Bartenetti, to graduation. But with juniors Courtney Mathieson and Sara Overgaag returning to lead an experienced squad, one can expect continued success from the Montana Women's Soccer Team.
Track and Field
Success hasn't come as easily for Montana's track and field teams. But their recent history of finishing near the bottom of the Big Sky Conference may soon be changing under head coach Tom Raunig, who just completed his first season at UM.
"It was a building year for us," Raunig said. "We had a lot of small improvements, and we just made progress across the board."
Raunig and his teams battled with adversity last season, as several key competitors were injured and had to sit out the season. And the coaching position was vacant for a while before Raunig was hired, so Raunig and his staff missed an entire season of recruiting. As a result, the team had some holessuch as a men's high jumperthat they were unable to fill.
Yet UM's teams still had respectable seasons, with the men finishing seventh in the nine team Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships while the women finished eighthjust four points shy of sixth place.
The team also had some spectacular individual performances, most notably by freshman Nick Stewart, who broke a seventeen-year-old school record when he won the Big Sky title in the 400 meter hurdles with a time of 50.92 seconds. The only Grizzly to earn an invitation to the NCAA Championships, Stewart, a Canadian, was also picked for the Canadian national junior team that competed in the Pan-American Junior Championships in Havana, Cuba.
"Nick was the biggest highlight of this past season," Raunig said. "Probably the highlights for the women were Brooke Stinson's getting third in the conference in the 100 and 200 meters and Brenda Naber's second place finish in the high jump."
Thanks to the small improvements Montana's athletes have made across the board, the return of injured competitors and some aggressive recruiting, Raunig just might help the Grizzly track and field program achieve the success that most UM teams have enjoyed in recent years. M
Rick Stern also writes for the Missoula Independent and Camas: People and Issues of the Northern Rockies.