Saturday, November 27, 2021
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‘No excuses’ for Wildcats in semifinal

by KATIE BROWN
Daily Inter Lake | October 22, 2021 10:39 PM

So close they can taste it. That’s true for three local Class A soccer teams at the moment — Whitefish boys and girls and the Columbia Falls boys.

Things are playing out a lot like last year for those three teams, too, at least so far.

Whitefish and Columbia Falls met in the state final as the Bulldogs won their third title. The Whitefish girls fell to Laurel in the chipper but have looked like world-beaters for the majority of the season.

But there’s the semifinals to get through first. And Columbia Falls has a short road trip to Missoula to play Southern A conference winner Loyola today.

“We’ve seen tons of game film on them, so we’re ready,” Wildcats coach O’Brien Byrd said. “We feel pretty confident that whatever we see from them on Saturday, it won’t be a surprise. We feel very prepared for our opponent, maybe more than we have for any of our opponents this year, because it’s a such a big game.”

The Wildcats have only lost to one team in the past two seasons — Whitefish — and they are fully healthy going into today’s game.

“We don’t really have any excuses,” Byrd said. “We’re fully fit. We’re doing really well. We’ve got no excuses going into Saturday. We should take care of business.”

Columbia Falls did that last Saturday in the quarterfinal against Lone Peak with a 3-0 win. Loyola is just another step toward the main goal.

It helps that everyone from that young team last year is back. Experience can’t be taken for granted.

“That is always just a gigantic advantage being that everybody from last year that were in that state semi-final and the high pressure situation is back ... a semifinal is certainly a much different dynamic than the quarters because you’re one game away from the big dance,” Byrd said.

The three top scorers — Kai Golan, Findley Sundberg and Dale Blickhan — have scored more goals combined than anyone in the state and things have only seemed to pick up in the latter part of the season.

“We’ve been building and building and building these last five or six games,” Byrd said. “We’re definitely peaking at the right time without a doubt.”

Columbia Falls plays at 1 on Loyola’s Rollin Field today.

Both undefeated Whitefish teams play today, too. Though both are top seeds as conference winners, the bracket is set up this year so their semifinals are on the road. A final for either team would be a home game.

The Bulldog girls take on Billings Central, No. 1 in the East, who they beat in the semifinal last year. That game is at 10 a.m. at Amend Park in Billings.

The boys are in Livingston for their 11 a.m. semifinal against Park, the No. Eastern A seed.

Bigfork’s girls, who upset No. 1 Southern seed Stevensville last week, plays defending state champ Laurel at 1:30 p.m. The Valkyries are coming off their best season in program history and are in the playoffs for the second straight year.

Class A semfinals

Saturday

Girls

10 a.m. —Whitefish at Billings Central

1:30 p.m. —Bigfork at Laurel

Boys

11 a.m. —Whitefish at Park

1 p.m. —Columbia Falls at Loyola