ANACONDA — Two Copperheads officially became Argos on Wednesday afternoon at the Snake Pit as friends, family and coaches gathered to watch Cora Pesanti and Eli Saltenberger sign their NAIA letters of intent to the University of Providence.
While both student-athletes will be majoring in exercise science with the goal to become physical therapists, their paths took somewhat unexpected turns before reaching this checkpoint of their respective careers.
Pesanti, who will join Providence’s track and field team as a sprinter, is also a cross-country runner and standout wrestler. It was pretty clear that she’d be a college athlete, but the question was: wrestling or track? Thursday’s signing makes track a definitive “yes,” but wrestling hasn’t been ruled out.
“I went on a college visit to Providence for wrestling,” Pesanti said. “When (Argos track coach Tony Arntson) heard that I was visiting for wrestling, he was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, she’s really good at track, too.’ So he talked to (wrestling coach Matt Atwood) and he was like, ‘I’m going to try and steal a recruit from you.’”
Saltenberger was a standout basketball player for three years with the Copperheads. His ability to play at the next level was hardly in doubt. He led Anaconda in scoring during his junior year before attending camps at Montana Tech and Montana Western last July. It was around that time during the summer when he started receiving interest from multiple college coaches.
But when Saltenberger tore his ACL before the start of his senior year, certainty regarding his immediate future became hazy.
“He was playing at a pretty high level, especially last summer,” Eli’s father, Andy Saltenberger said. “He was doing well, but I mean, that knee definitely put a question mark out there.”
Apparently Argos coach Steve Keller had seen enough to extend an offer.
“Coach Keller was willing to take that chance,” Andy said. “And he’s awfully excited to be an Argo.”
To top it off, Eli said that the rehabilitation process is progressing “pretty smoothly.”
“I’m doing everything I used to be able to do, pretty much,” he added. “They just haven’t cleared me to play five-on-five.”
Similar to Saltenberger, Pesanti said that she was swayed toward Providence track because of the way Arntson made her feel wanted.
“I visited a lot of places,” Pesanti said. “And I’ve gone to a bunch of campuses. And this one kind of stuck out to me. (Arntson) seems to really care.”
That’s no accident or coincidence. Arntson, who made the trip from Great Falls to Anaconda for the signing, said that relationship-building is the fulcrum of the recruiting process.
“There was two things coach (Mike) Van Diest taught me years and years and years ago when he recruited me and then when I got to watch him as a college coach,” Arntson said. “Recruiting is about relationships.
“And if you meet a kid, and you want that kid in your program, then you build a relationship. And the way you build relationships is not by texting and emailing and talking to them on the phone. I try to get out and spend as much individual time as I can with them. And I think that means a lot to the kids.”
Matthew Kiewiet is the sports editor for the Montana Standard and sports betting columnist for 406MTSports. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @mattkiewiet406.