COLUMBIA FALLS — It's one thing to play your rival, but it's a whole other thing to play your rival in the championship game. This Saturday, the Columbia Falls Wildcats boys soccer team will be taking on the Whitefish Bulldogs in the State A championship game.
Adding one more layer to the matchup: The opposing coach used to coach the other team.
"I started my coaching career more or less in Whitefish. At the same time, I'm born and bred Columbia Falls, bleed blue in the veins. My kids go to school here," said Columbia Falls head boys soccer coach O'Brien Byrd. "This is where I grew up, this field is where I played when I was in high school. And Whitefish is absolutely our favorite and our best rival."
Call this the sequel. This will be the second year in a row that these two teams have faced off for the state title with round one going to Whitefish.
"Especially these past two years, it's just been so competitive between the two teams," said Columbia Falls senior George Robbins. "I suppose last year, especially with COVID, the crowds weren't as big but I feel like this year it's just going to be a bigger deal. And that just makes it more fun."
For the Whitefish seniors they will leave behind a pretty incredible legacy as they compete for their fourth consecutive state title. To put that into context, they have never experienced a year in their high school career where they did not compete for the state title.
"You know, the seniors have put together just such a great career," Whitefish boys soccer coach John Lacey said. "It's been fun to watch and they've all kind of grown up here on the grass and, man, they play some nice soccer so it's been pretty fun. I'm proud of all the boys."
If you ask Gabe Menicke, he never expected to lead the state with 25 goals, but he always imagined competing for the title year after year.
"I never thought that I would be leading the state in goals but actually, even in eighth grade, it was always kind of that mindset and that dream for four state championships," Menicke said. "I would like go through in my head, who do we have on our team each year, who do we have to play against, all that."
Kickoff will be at 11 a.m. this Saturday at Smith Field.