The Bigfork all-girls swim team came agonizingly close to earning its first-ever spot in the state finals at last season’s state swim meet in Bozeman.
Preliminary results had Ashley Anderson in the top six, but when official results emerged, a reverse disqualification pushed her back into 7th place and out of a spot in the Class A/B finals.
But Anderson – now a senior – still has another shot at reaching the podium at the state meet in February in Great Falls. And head coach Charlotte Ball said she is “incredibly hopeful” this is the year the Valkyries earn that elusive spot in the finals.
They certainly have the talent to make it happen. And with last season’s rule change that split Class AA and Class A/B into two different categories, teams from smaller schools do not have to compete with the elite squads from the big schools.
Ball pointed out two new arrivals to the team who have an “extensive swimming background.” Sophomore Sophie Logue moved from California and swims year-round with the KATS swim team in Kalispell. Ball said “she brings a lot of knowledge and experience to the team,” and added she could excel at longer-distance swims like the 500 freestyle.
Ball also pointed out Sydney Slawter, a sophomore, as “another great addition to the team.” Slawter is a lifelong swimmer from Kentucky who transferred to Bigfork this year.
This year’s squad has 14 girls, the most in the program’s history. And there are no boys on the team – Bigfork has the only all-girl swim team in the state. It is also Montana’s only Class B swim team.
Seven years ago, Title Nine regulations forced Bigfork to add a corresponding girls sport when the school district added wrestling. So the girls-only swim team was born.
Ball – who said “it was kind of sad” there was no swim team in Bigfork when she took a teaching job there – has led the program from its inception. She grew up in Arizona and has been swimming her entire life.
Ball said she “loves the vibe” the team has always had.
“I’m all about building confidence and independence in girls,” she said. “It’s a nice culture my team’s been able to create.”
While the team has skilled, lifelong swimmers, Ball is also coaching young athletes who have little-to-no experience in competitive swimming. She said she is teaching “a lot of fundamentals” at the moment.
“Where we live in Bigfork, we don’t have club swimming … it’s not as big of a culture,” Ball said. But she added this seems to be changing.
For instance, Ball expects to have a competitive relay team for the first time.
“It [the relay] has never been our strong suit, but it’s looking good this year,” she said. Bigfork finished 6th in the 400 freestyle relay at last Saturday’s Kalispell Invitational, competing against Class AA schools and Class A powerhouse Whitefish.
It could be a breakthrough year for one of the state’s most unique high-school sports programs.
The Valkyries head to Butte this weekend for the Butte Invitational and on Dec. 21 will participate in the Missoula Invitational. »