1. Mike Van Diest retires

This development was a whopper. Mike Van Diest coached the Saints football team for 20 years, leading them to six NAIA national title sand 14 Frontier Conference championships. He helped put Carroll College on the map nationally. General sports fans across the country knew of the standout small college in Montana because of Van Diest. There were hints that Van Diest was going to retire after this season, but the change was the biggest story by far in 2018.

2. Helena girls basketball repeats

The Helena High girls basketball team won its second straight Class AA state title last season. It was a major achievement as opponents took their best shot at the Bengals. Everyone knew Kamden Hilborn and Jaime Pickens were the top players and aimed to stop them. Oponents failed more often than not. The Bengals are without Hilborn, now at Montana State, but are off to a strong start this season as they try to three-peat. The last team to do that was Missoula Sentinel in 2011-2014.

3. Troy Purcell takes over for Van Diest

Replacing Van Diest is going to be a challenge. Athletic director Charlie Gross needed to make the right choice. He’s confident he did with Capital High and Carroll College alum Troy Purcell. He has a passion for the Saints and the city of Helena. That’s something the Saints need as they go about rebuilding the program after four losing seasons. Purcell has connections around the state as a successful high school coach, and from the region coming from NCAA Division I Idaho.

4. Capital volleyball wins state

The Capital High volleyball team was young, but talented. So talented that many thought the Bruins were one of the top teams in the Class AA state title at the beginning of the season. The Bruins mostly lived up to that billing, despite a setback with an early loss to Helena. The Bruins responded to split the regular season series. Then they not only returned to the championship round for the first time in 2002, they won their third state title in program history. The young team could repeat next season.

5. Helena’s Tony Arntson jumps to Carroll

Longtime Helena High football coach Tony Arntson decided to step down after building a consistently strong program. He wanted to try his hand as an assistant coach at the college level and an opening at Carroll College was too good to pass. He worked with the offensive line this past season. The program he left behind remained solid as the Bengals reached the semifinals of the Class AA playoffs under new coach Scott Evans.

6. Carson Cunningham goes Division I

The Carroll College men’s basketball program has become a powerhouse in the NAIA ranks, thanks to Carson Cunningham. So it was a blow to the Saints when he left after five seasons to go to Incarnate Word. You can’t blame him for trying the NCAA Division I level. Before he arrived at Carroll, the Saints went 2-25. He left after three straight NAIA tournament trips, during which the team twice reached the quarterfinals. Cunningham ended at Carroll with a 132-57 record.

7. Kurt Paulson returns to Carroll

Cunningham left, but Kurt Paulson stepped in as the 27th coach in Carroll history. Pauslon has the Saints playing well early in the season as they won the first 11 games and are 13-1 heading into Frontier Conference play. Paulson knows how to win at Carroll as he did so as a player. He was a starter on Gary Turcott’s 2005 NAIA semifinal team and 2006 quarterfinal team. Paulson was an assistant under Turcott for two years, and then learned under Wayne Tinkle at Montana and Oregon State.

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8. Helena cowboys excel 

Two Helena cowboys ended the year with strong showings at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Ty Erickson finished seventh in the world standings for steer wrestling with $170,879 won. He won $91,217 at the NFR. Chase Tryan of Helena and partner Bubba Buckaloo shared fourth place in the final round of team roping. The two won $105,967 each at the NFR. Tryan was fifth in the team roping heading standings, while Buckaloo was sixth for headers.

9. Brewers leave town

It was known for a while the Helena Brewers were going to leave town for the Colorado Spring, Colorado, after the season. However, it was still a blow to the city. There’s a big group of fans who will miss the Advanced Rookie level team affiliated with the Milwaukee Brewers. Those fans loved to watch the young men get their start here and then see them play in the Big Leagues. For now, the American Legion Helena Senators are the only game in town.

10. Sean O’Malley in UFC

The Helena native bantamweight mixed martial arts fighter had a dramatic year. He won the Fight of the Night at UFC 222 in March to run his pro fighting record to 10-0. He won even though he injured his foot in the fight. He was expected to fight at UFC 229 in October, but was taken out of the fight due to an anti-doping policy violation, and was suspended six months for testing positive for ostarine. He’s eligible to return in March. O’Malley believes a tainted dietary supplement was the cause.

Honorable mention: Carroll College men's and women's basketball teams win Frontier Conference titels, Helena football reached semifinals of Class AA playoffs, Isaac Romero wins state wrestling title again, Trey Tinginger wins state and high jump titles again, Capital softball finished third in the state.

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Associate Sports Editor

Associate Sports Editor for The Independent Record

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