By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
It's not exactly a caste system. But if the girls District 9C regular season has taught us anything, it's that there is definitely an upper and lower class.
To be fair, you can divide the two groups into the "haves" and "have-nots."
The "haves" - Rocky Boy, Big Sandy, Blue Sky/J-I - have just a either just a little bit more talent, depth and experience, which is why they finished 1-2-3 in the 9C standings.
The "have-nots" - Hays-Lodge Pole, Turner, Box Elder and KG - might not have the amount of wins, talent, depth or talent.
Still, one thing is for certain as the 2005 District 9C Girls Basketball tournament gets under way today at the Havre High gym: The "have-nots" have not given up the dream of playing Saturday night in the 9C championship game.
Really, with this tournament anything is possible.
"Every team is capable of beating every team in this league" said Turner head coach Brenda Mohar. "It really just depends on who is playing well and hitting their shots."
One team that has been playing well and hitting shots all year is the top-seeded Rocky Boy Morning Stars.
Rocky Boy took home the regular season title with a stellar 17-1 record, with their only loss coming to the Big Sandy Pioneers in Big Sandy.
"We didn't shoot the ball well in that game and we made way too many turnovers," said Stars head coach Deb LaMere.
Rocky Boy is one of the deepest teams in the tournament with a solid mixture of size, speed and athleticism.
Leading the Morning Stars into the tourney are the Belcourt twins, Loni and Tori.
As freshmen, the Belcourts made last year's District 9C tournament a memorable one, helping lead the Stars to a third-place finish. A year older and a year wiser, they have opposing coaches already looking forward to their graduation in two years.
Both Belcourts are solid ballhandlers, which makes them difficult to press. They are also dangerous shooters and penetrators, which makes them double-threats to score.
The Stars also have a solid frontcourt led by Shaneen Rainingbird, Erin Broncho and Chelsea St. Pierre.
"Our balance is what makes us so tough," LaMere said. "If one girl has a bad night, we have two or three girls that can step in and pick up the slack."
With their regular season success, the Morning Stars comes in as the prohibitive favorite and a big fat target on their backs. But it's a role that they relish.
"We're excited for the tournament," LaMere said. "We've been looking forward to it all season. They really like playing in Havre. It's almost like a second home for us."
Rocky Boy will have a first-round bye into Thursday afternoon's semifinal.
The tournament starts off with seventh-seeded KG taking on second-seeded Big Sandy.
After a one-year hiatus, Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner is back prowling the sidelines for the Pioneer girls. And Lackner has plans to be playing on Saturday night.
"The expectation is always to be playing Saturday night of the district tournament and advancing to divisionals," he said. "It never changes. I think if we play smart, we are more than capable of playing on Saturday night."
The Pioneers are also a very balanced squad, featuring a solid frontcourt with sophomore Shalayna Pearson and junior Naomi Williams and an improving backcourt led by senior Sandy Zeiger and Havre High transfer Kacy Herron.
"Our frontcourt play has been very consistent this year," Lackner said. "Our backcourt is starting to come around and be a little more consistent, which would be big for us."
KG (2-14, 2-16) has struggled at times battling injuries and inexperience. The KouGars have been victimized by inconsistency, turnovers and offensive droughts, but they are still capable of playing with Pioneers as evidenced by a 54-53 overtime loss to Big Sandy last weekend.
"We need to play a full game, instead of one or two good quarters in each game," said KG head coach Jen Wendland. "We have been in a lot of ball games this season, but we just have that one bad quarter where we fall apart."
The KouGars were hurt with the loss of junior point guard Britta Umbach to a broken foot. They have been using a point guard by committee, whose main job is to get the ball in the hands of freshman Tasha Dyrland and junior Jodi Norman.
The 5-10 Dyrland has been KG's most consistent offensive threat all season, averaging close to 20 points per game and hauling in a passel of rebounds.
Third-seeded Blue Sky/J-I (12-4, 14-4) will take on sixth-seeded Box Elder (5-11, 6-12) tonight at 7.
The Eagles swept the season series and have one of the most explosive players in the conference in senior Kaila Warren.
Warren's overall numbers are down somewhat this season, but that's because of the overall balance the team. But she is still capable of putting up big numbers in a hurry. Warren dropped 34 points on Hays-Lodge Pole last weekend. Last year in the semifinals of the tournament, Warren scored 29 points, including 22 points and six 3-pointers in one quarter.
"Kaila Warren is the key to Blue Sky's success," Lackner said. "She's very dangerous because she can score in a number of different ways."
Blue Sky/J-I also has a solid frontline with Kim and Kile Patrick and Robyn Schnitzmeier, along with backcourt depth from Maia Aageson and Megan Warren.
A year ago Box Elder had just one win coming into the tournament. This year the Bears have six wins and it could have been even more.
"We've been much more competitive this year," said fifth-year Bears head coach Shiloh Schwab-Hannum. "There were some games that we had chances to win, but just didn't have the experience to finish off at the end."
The Bears will look to seniors Rebecca Eagleman and Ashley Parisian to help key a first-round upset. Eagleman is the Bears' leading scorer, while Parisian has been a solid on-court leader.
"Rebecca has pretty much been our leading scorer every night," Schwab-Hannum said. "We've had some other players step up and get us some rebounds and scoring at times, and we need that in the tournament."
The final first-round game will tip off on Wednesday at 1 p.m. as the fourth-seeded Hays-Lodge Pole T-Birds (7-9, 9-9) square off with the fifth-seeded Turner Tornadoes (7-9, 9-9). The two teams finished tied for fourth in the regular season, but Hays earned the higher seed with two wins over Turner in the regular season.
Every year it seems that one team earns the label: "The team you least want to play." This year Hays has been saddled with it.
"Absolutely, you don't want to play them," said Blue Sky/J-I coach Liz Campbell of the T-Birds. "Hays is a very dangerous team. You don't want to play them, especially if their big girl is playing well."
The big girl Campbell was referring to is 6-1 senior center Colette Hawley. She is the tallest player in the 9C and can be the most dominating at times. The T-Birds also have two good guards in junior Suzi Kirkaldie and senior Sheena Shambo.
Turner also has a solid trio of players that Mohar dubber her "big three." Juniors Ashley VanVoast, Kelsey Klindworth and Cheryl Cowan have been playing varsity for the past three years and are hoping to get Turner a win in the tournament.
"We have had our ups and downs this season," said Turner head coach Brenda Mohar. "But my big three of Cheryl, Ashley and Kelsey have really carried us at times. They just bring so much game experience. They have played in a lot of games, so they don't get rattled to easy."
With the talent and depth of the conference, upsets could abound. And just making it out of the tournament will be an accomplishment.
"The 9C is the toughest conference in the Northern Division," Lackner said. "We've beat Judith Gap, the top team in the 7C and Chester, the top team in the 10C. Rocky Boy beat Highwood, which is one of the best in 8C and Blue Sky beat Chester twice. If you make it out of districts, you have a good chance to make it to state."