Pirates’ Davey is back on track in 2010

By FRITZ NEIGHBOR of the Missoulian

Teammate Krista Redcrow calls her “beast,” but Nicole Davey hasn’t felt like one on the track oval for a while.

Her athletic skills are undeniable: The Polson senior is two-time all-state in volleyball, and her talent as an outside hitter landed her a partial scholarship to Division II Montana State-Billings.

If that’s a high point, the low point was a little over a year ago, when she fell to the track at the Missoula Invitational. She’d been fighting illness all spring.

“You look gray; you’re ashen,” track coach Bob Gunderson would say.

“It’s just a cold,” she’d reply.

A trip to the emergency room convinced her it was something else.

“It just was a nightmare,” said Davey, who competed in a triangular meet at Missoula County Stadium on Tuesday. “It was really scary; I had no idea what was wrong with me.”

It was mono, an illness for which she’d been tested before. The second test came back positive, and so it was another four months or so before the ultra-active Davey competed again.

That’s pretty rough territory for a three-sport standout.

“The hard part was she went to state with us,” Polson track coach Bob Gunderson said. “She was cleared to run the week of divisionals; she just hadn’t trained.

“So I took her as an alternate on the short relay. And then when our relays ran she’d just be sitting there crying, because she couldn’t run. I felt so bad for her.”

When Davey was a sophomore, she and a core of athletes that included Sierra Pete, Redcrow, Breanne Kelley, Loni Havlovick and Tara Johnson – there was just one senior, Merilee Mowbray – led Polson to the 2008 State A track and field championship.

The Pirates have been star-crossed since.

“They have never all been healthy at any one time,” complained Gunderson, who is missing Pete, out with a torn ACL, this spring.

On Tuesday the Pirates looked formidable, though they ran a distant second to the powerful Big Sky Eagles. Davey won the pole vault and finished second in the 300 hurdles to Big Sky’s Morgan Struble.

It’s in those two events that Davey, who says, “On a good day I’m 5-foot-10, but I’m really 5-9,” could excel at the next level. MSU-Billings has left the door open for her to try two sports.

“She could be a really good vaulter,” Gunderson said. “She’s tall, she’s fast, and she isn’t afraid of anything.”

Except, perhaps, losing time.

“She says she’s slow,” Gunderson says, smiling. “She keeps telling me she’s an old lady. She’s 18.”

Gunderson makes no qualms about what Davey would’ve meant last Memorial Day weekend, when Polson finished two points behind second-place Hamilton and 25 behind state champion Belgrade at the state meet.

Davey scored 30 points at state in 2008.

“People ask me if I missed her,” Gunderson said. “I say, ‘I’m just going to enjoy this year a lot.’ ”

Davey is too. Tuesday she anchored the final race of the day, the girls’ long relay. She caught Big Sky anchor Elle Tinkle at the tape, giving the Pirates a time of 4:12.31.

No tears this time.

“It’s my favorite race,” said Davey. That’s why watching Billings Central knock Polson back to second in last year’s four-by-400 hurt so much.

“It’s all right,” she said Tuesday. “We’ll come back and get ’em this year, hopefully.”