‘Dogs open track season, new era

Under head coach Arie Grey, Butte High’s track teams will make their usual late season entry Tuesday in Missoula.

The Bulldogs had been slated to host the annual Time Trials meet at Charlie Merrifield Track last Tuesday, but, as usual, the meet was canceled due to weather.

That’s a good thing though, if you ask Grey.

“Hey, we’ll be going into our first meet of the season with five days on the track under our belt,” Grey said Thursday after a pleasantly sunny practice at the team’s facility at the Gene Fogarty Athletic Complex adjacent to East Middle School.

Butte High sees its first competition Tuesday in Missoula, as the Bulldogs are scheduled to take on the three Class AA Schools there at Missoula County Stadium.

Grey is in his first season as the combined head track coach, running the boys’ and girls’ programs. He took over the girls’ team for veteran Tom Roberts a couple years ago, then got himself a very big pair of shoes to fill after Charlie Merrifield stepped down last season after four decades at the helm of the Butte High boys’ team.

Merrifield’s teams won four Class AA championships in that time, as well as six second-place and two third-place finishes. His athletes won 60 individual titles as well as eight relay championships.

Grey’s ready for the challenge, and has around 110 athletes spread over two teams, with about 30 on the girls’ side and 80 on the boys’.

Senior Erika McLeod leads the girls, as the University of Montana-bound speedster is also the defending Class AA State long jump titlist. Grey said she’ll be competitive in the short- to mid-distance races, and will be a ringer for the relays. McLeod was also third in the 400 at the State meet last spring.

Hard-working seniors McKenzee O’Neill, Jessica Buckley and Rachel Anderson will help the Bulldogs, especially in the javelin, while Afton Ferris continues to improve in the discus ring.

Bailey Hanson and Andy Hogan lead the Butte distance crew, while sprinter Mariah Richardson has captured her coach’s eye with her work ethic.

“Mariah is one of the hardest-working kids,” Grey said. “I always get her best effort. She would run through a wall if we asked her to.”

Grey is also impressed with the 11 freshmen who joined the team this season.

“We have a lot of young girls and a strong senior class,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers with the sophomores and juniors, but they have some good talent.”

Butte’s boys are headlined by good depth in the sprints.

Junior Dalton Dam brings great wheels, as do teammates Jake Eisenbarth and Paul Campbell. Tyler Earles should add speed in the short races, as well as some good momentum over the hurdles.

Merrifield still serves as hurdles coach for the Bulldogs, and drew praise from his successor.

“What Charlie does so well is take care of these kids and progress them through the season,” Grey noted. “You have to be smart about how you do it, and he obviously knows what he’s doing.”

Grey will also look for production from senior Peter Granger, who has talent in a number of events.

“There is just such a wide range of what he can do,” Grey observed, adding that Jason Vesco and Danien Hayden will add strength in the jumps.

Kieffer Hepola and Connor Lee will pace the Bulldogs in the throwing events, and will make fine leaders, Grey said.

“We’re pretty young in the throws, but it’s exciting,” he said, noting 26 sophomores on the team.

“Track has a short season, and we’ll know a lot more after the first meet,” Grey said. “We just have to be smart in how we train and stay healthy.

“That, and take advantage of all the nice days we can.”