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On the road again…

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By Al Malinowski EBS CONTRIBUTOR

The 2020 Lone Peak volleyball team had a remarkable season, establishing many team records that future teams at Lone Peak High will be challenged to match. The team remained undefeated for much of the season, and two of the team’s four losses were to the eventual runner-up in the Class C state tournament championship.  When the players reflect on this season, they will have much to be proud of, and likely many positive memories to cherish. The hardware added to the school’s trophy case will serve as a constant reminder of the landmark achievements of the 2020 team. Correspondingly, the team’s success was accompanied by long hours on the road.

High school athletes in Montana, regardless of their sport or class, spend a substantial amount of time traveling to play their games, with those at LPHS being no exception. Montana is the fourth largest state in the country, covering over 147,000 square miles, and our population of just over a million people has found that the Treasure State offers numerous attractive and unique locations to call home. Our student-athletes, coaches and parents accept that bus rides to road contests add a greater commute time than high school athletes in most other states typically endure. 

During the divisional volleyball tournament, the 2020 LPHS volleyball team established another record of sorts, but this may be one future Lone Peak teams won’t be motivated to best. Over a period of seven days, from Nov. 3 through Nov. 9, the Lone Peak volleyball team visited four different schools across the state to play games. The week began with Seeley-Swan High School on Tuesday, Hot Springs on Thursday, Manhattan Christian on Saturday, and finally Charlo for a challenge game on Monday. 

Based on my calculations, the team, and many of their parents, covered 1,766 miles that week, the equivalent of driving from one end of Montana to the other nearly three times. Assuming the drivers obeyed the speed limit, the Lone Peak caravan spent more than 24 hours of that week on the road.

Most years, the divisional volleyball tournament would have been held at a central location, with the participating teams competing in that central town for as long as they can survive and advance in the bracket. However, since 2020 has been anything but normal, and based on the seeding of the tournament, the Lady Big Horns found themselves as the visiting team in all four of their matches. 

To further illustrate the traveling Montana athletes must endure, during the 2012-13 Lone Peak Big Horn basketball season, our boys and girls teams, who travel together, logged roughly 2,600 miles divided into 10 trips over 12 weeks, traveling to various away games and tournaments. To put that in perspective, try to locate a place in the United States (excluding Hawaii) that is further away from Big Sky than the total miles we covered that season. One could drive to look for sharks in Key West, Florida or to view polar bears in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska and still be 400 miles short.

Here’s the good news: Some of the best memories student-athletes retain from high school athletics are those experiences that occur during the bus rides. Players have the opportunity to build a lasting bond with their teammates and coaches on those trips. The Lady Big Horns should’ve had enough time on the bus during the divisional volleyball tournament to produce ample memories to last a lifetime. And if there are any athletes who didn’t, basketball season is (hopefully) just around the corner. 

Al Malinowski has lived in Big Sky for over 25 years. He has coached middle school and high school basketball at the Big Sky School District for 22 of those years. He believes participation in competitive athletics has been critical in establishing his core values.

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