The Purple Wave has been building for so long, it'll seem like a tsunami to many standing in its wake.
Missoula Sentinel's girls' soccer team is fully stocked with talent and experience in 2011. Enough, in fact, that a berth in the State AA finals for the first time in a decade appears well within reach.
Nine starters return for the purple and gold, including a trio of all-staters in forward Kennedy Fulbright, midfielder Molly Smith and goalkeeper DJ Reinhardt. Other returning starters are Anna Hochhalter, Trae Rocheleau, Emilie Thane, Kelly Umbaugh, Elly Jones and Bri Olson.
"I'm a pretty lucky coach right now," Sentinel fifth-year skipper Keri Grasky said. "When you have this many players at this level, it's real nice because I can focus on things I usually can't get to until well into the season.
"And this has been probably our best preseason as far as a team being fit."
One reason the Spartans are so fit is they've played a lot this summer. Seven team members were on a U18 Strikers squad that competed in regionals in Boise. Another seven were on a U16 Strikers team that played at regionals.
"The girls play so many different sports and to have that many experience soccer regionals is great just to give them kind of a taste for what's out there," Grasky said. "They've tested themselves, so they know how hard they can really push themselves."
Pegging the strongest Western AA boys' team is harder. Helena High and Helena Capital played in the State final last fall, so they should be considered favorites until knocked off their perch.
The general consensus is that Missoula Hellgate is a team on the rise. Veteran coach Jay Anderson had his Knights in the State title match in 2009, and he's got a core of seniors to build around in all-state keeper Lucas Wittkopp and co-captains Casey Higgins, Heath Chisholm and Charlie Scheel.
"We've got a lot of individual talent," Anderson said, "but we're untested as a team."
In Class A, Whitefish first-year girls' coach Wendy Farrens feels like she's been handed to keys to a Cadillac. The Bulldogs reached the State finals last fall and there's reason to believe they'll be back.
"I honestly can't complain a whole lot," said Farrens, who played soccer at Colorado College and spent two years as a graduate assistant at TCU. "We have a great group of girls and they're all willing to go the extra mile to get better. It's awesome."
Farrens believes her team is out to prove itself after dropping a 4-1 decision to Billings Central in last year's State final in Billings. The Bulldogs have a pair of senior all-staters in forward/midfielders Natalie Gayner and Sam Dittman and a strong supporting cast that includes seniors Anna Carpenter, Maggie Frankino, Michaela Millette and Mackenzie Thomas.
"I'm a very possession-oriented coach," Farrens said. "I like to build from the back and keep it as simple as possible. We've done a lot of work on technique, getting back to basics. It's been going well."
Polson, Whitefish and Hamilton could push for the boys' State A title. All three reached the State tournament last October, with the Pirates bowing out one win short of the finals.
"We have everyone coming back to the team from our defense last season," Polson coach Jess Kittle noted. "We only allowed three goals in conference play and four of our five defenders got all-conference."
Senior keeper Peregrine Frissell has quick reflexes, a long reach and good hands.But Polson won't have an easy time defending its Northern A District title with Whitefish returning a large group of varsity veterans, including junior forward Sam Donaldson, the team's second leading goal scorer from 2010.
"We have explosive speed and individual skills that will help us control games," Bulldogs coach O'Brien Byrd said. "Defensively we have some questions."
Hamilton is the team in beat in the Northern A boys' race. The Broncs are led by battle-tested senior midfielders Dace Moerkerke and Nash Johnson and defender Joe Robinson.
"I'm really excited about the group that's coming back," Hamilton coach Randy Lint said. "The (seven) kids that are seniors, a lot of them have played varsity for three or four years."