MISSOULA — We'll conclude our KPAX Sports Awards with our final in-town high school finalists in Sentinel's Challis Westwater and Soren Syvrud.
Westwater was a standout for the Spartans on the court both in volleyball and basketball.
She was a captain for the basketball team since 2018, and helped guide both Spartan teams to the state tournaments during her final year.
Westwater's basketball career will continue after high school as she recently committed to Montana Tech in Butte as she gets set to join the team in the coming fall.
"Sports have meant everything to me," Westwater said. "As an athlete people ask you what your hobbies are and stuff and you don’t really have hobbies you have sports and they teach you everything in life. It’s awesome to stay close to home and I kind of feel like I’m representing Missoula and sentinel high school which has given me so many awesome opportunities and I have the chance to have all of my home fans come and see me so that’s great."
Syvrud was a driving force behind Sentinel's first state football championship in 48 years.
He earned co-defensive MVP honors for the season, was all-state on both sides of the ball, and was also a captain as the Spartans dominated the Class AA season.
On the court, Syvrud was a two-year starter for Sentinel in basketball, as he helped the Spartans get to the semifinal round of the state tournament.
And he won't be going far, as Syvrud will be staying home for his college athletic career, when he'll suit up for the Montana Griz football team in the fall.
"Sports have just taught me a ton of lessons that I can carry with me throughout the rest of my life. Just dedication, hard work, accountability," Syvrud said. "Those are just huge things that you might not get from other things other than sports so and also the teammates and camaraderie that I’ve had. I’ve made my best friends playing sports and they’ll be my friends forever and create a lot of relationships and bonds with people through the games."
That concludes our 10 finalists for this year's KPAX sports awards.
The winners will be announced on Wednesday night. To read the essays submitted by Westwater and Syvrud, read below.
With fluorescent lights beaming down on me, loud whistles ringing in my ears, and hardwood beneath my feet, I made my first basket.
The adrenaline pumped within me and excited me like never before. For years, I had watched my mom’s team practice every day after school. I knew that by my freshman year I would be on that same varsity court, but what I didn’t realize was that my life would change forever. That court is where I learned to loathe the bad calls, crosstown teams, and my dad who was rarely in the stands. The only games he showed up for were the ones that mattered the most and his presence only made me more uneasy about the outcome. Would he leave again if I missed this free throw? Basketball was there for me when he left, when he moved away, when he started a new family, and when he stopped calling; now his attendance was only an inconvenience. His children were loud reminders of the life I could have had.
Those same stands forced me to watch my grandma slowly slipping away from reality and closing in on the end of her time. She used to walk, cheer, and hum the national anthem. Last season, she laid in a nursing home and couldn’t help but fall asleep while watching my games on TV. This season, she watched with the angels up above.
The court is where I studied my sister wondering how she could look so happy on the outside and be so sad on the inside. It’s where I saw more playing time than her, even though she was older. I heard her muffled cries to my mother through my bedroom door and secretly checked her at night to make sure she was still there. I couldn’t help but think it was all my fault.
That same court is also where I learned to love. Love the game, love my teammates, and love myself. The long practices gave me patience: patience to trust in the process of life even when it felt like everything was falling apart. The big games gave me a work ethic: the ability to push through though I was tired, hungry, and hurt. It is what will keep me striving to achieve my greatest dreams. It gave me my best friends, some of whom I call family. They know how I react to stress, happiness, sadness, and anger and they keep me fighting to be the best person I can be. It showed me diversity. Separately, we were nerds, jocks, quiet kids, popular kids, and kids that didn’t fit any category, but on the court we were all the same. The losses filled me with empathy. This empathy is the reason that I maintain contact with my dad. Every single game ends with a mistake, but we have to remember that the final score is a representation of all four quarters and not the last ten seconds.
As an athlete I replay those last ten seconds over and over analyzing what I could have done better, but instead of cutting my own father off, I have forced myself to forgive his mistakes. The high intensity game instilled me with a calm demeanor. As captain, if I was not calm, nobody was. It is what enabled me to talk my sister out of giving up. Who taught me the most in life? Well, for me, it’s not a who, but a what. For some, basketball is just a game, but for me it is a teacher. A moral compass of right and wrong. A mind map through the highs and lows of life. It is who I am. One day, when the fluorescent lights are no longer on me and the whistles have stopped, I will remember the lessons basketball has taught me. I will be forever grateful for the person that court has made me.
High school athletics has had a major impact on my life for the last four years. Sports has taught me lessons that I will carry with me forever. Being a three-sport student athlete taught me how to manage my time, build relationships, and take coaching to improve upon myself. I learned how to manage my schoolwork and free time, while also working to be as successful as possible on the field, court or track. I learned to take coaching and listen to more experienced coaches or teammates that can give me advice to help better myself in any sport and in life. I had to listen to and respect my coaches while being patient and accepting because they wanted what was best for me.
I learned the lesson of accountability from my teammates and coaches. Always doing your part for the team, and making sure your job gets done in order for the team to be successful. The competition against my fellow teammates in practice taught me how to compete and showed the hard work it takes to achieve what you want. I am thankful to have my teammates and coaches because they have done so much for me over the years on and off the field, and pushed me to be better every day. Being a three-sport athlete gave me the ability to meet new people and build friendships that will last a lifetime.
Making the decision to play sports helped me build relationships with some of my closest friends, and with people that I never would have expected. The bonds you make with your teammates is something that will never be broken. After all the work in the weight room, in practice, and on the field, seeing the results of the work you put in is very special. Doing three sports also taught me hard work and dedication. In order to be successful in high school athletics, you have to outwork others to be your best. Never before did I have to earn a spot, or beat somebody out. Nothing gets handed to you in high school sports; you have to earn it yourself. I learned to do more than what is expected if you really want to be the best you can be. That shows in the weight room, in practice, and the results on the field or court. Sports builds character and exposes people who do not have any.
It taught me how to handle winning and how to handle losing. You can either respond and continue to work, or give up and let it beat you. I had many experiences where I felt like giving up, or accepting to lose, but persevered and figured things out, and that is something that I will value in my future. Athletes have to persevere through many things and respond to adversity. I learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable. When things get tough, you have to respond and push through challenging things. I naturally became a leader through sports. I learned how to lead by example and motivate my teammates every day because I saw the potential in what we had. Being a captain made me realize the positive impact you can make on your teammates. I am so grateful for everything I've learned over the years being an athlete. Nothing else could have taught me the lessons I've learned and I never build the relationships I did. I wouldn't be the person I am today without being a high school athlete.