By Dillon Tabish, 3-30-12
||Caption: Ben Cutler drives to the basket during a game this season. - Mark Planck photo/courtesy Carroll College
Matt Morris, the head track coach at Carroll College, likes telling the story of Ben Cutler’s first practice.
Cutler had approached Morris and asked if he could join the upstart track program last spring. The new coach knew Cutler had been playing basketball for the Fighting Saints and was in good shape. But still, the 5-foot-11 guard had not stepped onto a track since his high school days at Glacier.
Morris told him to attend practice and took a wait-and-see approach.
At one of those first practices, the team was set to run a staggered 400-meter workout. Coaches sent Cutler to the end of the line and he waited. One by one, runners were sent striding around the oval track.
As Morris watched, uncertainty lingered. Carroll College had reinstated track and field after a 30-year hiatus and assigned Morris the task of building the program from the ground up. He had no idea what the future might hold.
Suddenly something grabbed his attention. The last runner in line was in full stride and was making up the gaps between runners. Pretty soon Cutler was on the leader’s heels.
“I remember turning to one of the assistant coaches and saying ‘oh my goodness,’” Morris said.
By the end of last spring, the eye-opening sophomore had emerged as one of the best NAIA track athletes in the nation, advancing to nationals in both the 400 and long jump. At meets throughout the season he helped the 1,600 relay team beat teams from larger schools like the University of Montana, Montana State University and Boise State University. He also ended up becoming the foundation that Morris had hoped to build a new program around.
“When you have a brand new program, you have all freshmen and you’re really trying hard to find a team identity,” Morris said. “Ben kind of came in and saved our team because we didn’t really have that identity yet. Nothing against the other kids, but Ben really came in and pulled everybody together. He instantly changed our program.”
If that narrative sounds familiar it’s because the latest chapter in Cutler’s athletic career is beginning to resemble his last.
When Glacier became a new high school in 2007, the athletic programs had only underclassmen, including Cutler.
In basketball, the Wolfpack suffered a 3-18 season in 2007-08. But the following year Cutler led the league in scoring, averaging roughly 23 points per game, and Glacier made the Class AA state tournament for the first time ever.
That spring in track, he won the first state championship for Glacier’s boys program, cruising to the AA 400 title.
Fast forward to today, and he’s doing it all over again.
Earlier this month the junior guard from Kalispell earned first team all-conference honors in the Frontier Conference for this past season.
After four basketball players were lost because of injury or academic ineligibility early this year, head coach Brandon Veltri gave Cutler a starting opportunity from the bench.
Cutler scored 33 points in his first game as a starter.
“That gave me a lot of confidence and really carried me throughout the year,” Cutler said of his breakout starting debut. “That was a really good start to the transition from being a bench player to being a starter.”
Reminiscent of his high school days, Cutler solidified his starting spot thanks in part to his 3-point shooting. He shot almost 44 percent from behind the arc, 11th best in the NAIA. He averaged 13.5 points per game and also led the team in steals with 26.
Carroll’s season ended after a narrow 80-78 defeat to Great Falls on Feb. 28 in the first round of the Frontier Conference tournament.
Cutler looks back at basketball season and describes his achievement with modesty.
“I was just really focused on ‘what can I do to help the team,’” he said. “Even if that was just coming in and playing 20 minutes and bringing energy to the court. You just have to make the most of every opportunity you have.”
Another opportunity is about to arrive with the track season, which gets underway this weekend. Cutler, now officially a team captain, said it feels like high school again, competing in two sports with equal passion for both.
“My love for track is definitely back,” he said. “I’m excited about this year and to see what I can do and what our team can do.”
He’s looking to continue improving on already impressive marks from last year. He clocked a personal-best 47.6 in the 400, and ran under 48 seconds three times. He also leaped 23-9 in the long jump. He placed 12th in the 400 at NAIA Nationals and 11th in the long jump.
“Ben’s just the complete package. He’s a great kid. He’s a great student. He’s a great leader,” Morris said. “If you were picking someone to start a team, that would be who you would pick.”
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