Havre Daily News
Picking a favorite for the Northern C divisional girls basketball tournament this week at Great Falls' Four Seasons Arena is like picking a number out of a hat.
The reason it's so hard is because there are a number of teams that could easily walk away with the championship including District 10C champion Chester/J-I, District 9C champion Big Sandy and District 8C champion Highwood.
If a favorite had to be chosen, it would probably be Chester/J-I. The Hawks are 19-1 on the season, and they were able to avenge their only loss of the year when they defeated Dutton-Brady 58-45 in the 10C championship game last week in Cut Bank. The Hawks are a veteran team that has made it to the Class C state tournament in each of the last two years, and they are hoping the same cast of characters can lead them back once again.
“Well, we do have a lot of experience,” Chester/J-I head coach Dustin Gordon said. “We have four starters back from back-to-back state tournament teams. I think that because we have been able to make it the last two years, we have a real advantage because it is tough to make it to state in Class C and it's quite an accomplishment.”
The Hawks' four returning seniors are Amanda Violett, Mary Devries, Brianne Wolfe and Keyla Briese. However, Briese's status for the tournament has come into question because of an injury.
C/J-I's fearsome foursome are rather intimidating, not just because of their skill but also because of their size. And it is just about impossible to bottle all four of them up on the same night.
“We are a lot bigger than a lot of other teams and we are going to try and use that size to our advantage,” Gordon said. “If we can force teams to play our up-tempo style of basketball, we are a very dangerous team to contend with.”
The Hawks will square off against Winnett in the opening round tonight at 7:30. Winnett, who is the District 7C runner-up, earned its spot in the tournament by defeating Grass Range 48-32 on Monday night.
Winnett is 15-7 on the season and is led by top scorer Kylie King.
Another favorite to do well in the tournament is Big Sandy. The Pioneers went 19-1 this season, with their only loss coming to Highwood. They come into the tournament fresh off a 50-49 victory over Rocky Boy in the 9C championship game.
Big Sandy will take on Geyser in the first round tonight at 6.
“It was nice for us to win the conference championship, but those aren't that important,” Big Sandy head coach Roy Lackner said. “Our goal is to make it to state. I don't care where we finish in the tournament as long as we finish in the top three, because that will mean that we are going to state.”
The Pioneers are led by the combination of both the inside and outside scoring they get from Kacy Herron and Naomi Williams. Herron is a crafty guard and a solid ballhandler.
Williams provides the Pioneers with a dominating low post presence on both offense and defense.
Geyser defeated Great Falls Central in the District 8C challenge game 53-43 to make it to divisionals.
“Teams are still going to have to beat us,” Lackner said. “When we are getting up and down the floor and we are shooting the ball well, we are tough to beat.”
If the Pioneers manage to get past Geyser, and Chester/J-I can get past Winnett, the two teams would meet up in the marquee matchup of the tournament. Unfortunately, it would be in the semifinals, instead of for the divisional championship. Nonetheless, it would set up a rematch of last year's memorable double-overtime game at this very tournament.
In a tournament that seems to be top-heavy, there are bound to be a few upsets, and there is no better team to pull an upset than the Rocky Boy Morning Stars.
The Morning Stars are the District 9C runner-up after pulling off an incredible come-from-behind victory over Chinook in the District 9C challenge game. The Morning Stars trailed by 10 points with just a few mintues to go and they pulled out a 51-46 victory, closing with a 17-2 run.
Rocky Boy is going to need some of that same magic to carry over to this afternoon when the Morning Stars take on 19-1 Highwood at 2:30 p.m.
Highwood is the District 8C champion and is looking to make its first ever appearance in the state tournament. The Mountaineers are stocked full of talent with Denetta Gondeiro, Katie Schipf and Whitney Baum. However, much like the Hawks, the Mountaineers are facing some injury problems as Baum has had a nagging knee injury and her status for the tournament may be in doubt.
Rocky Boy comes into the game as the underdog, but the Morning Stars are certainly not scared of top teams. Just last Saturday they took Big Sandy to the brink of defeat, before losing a 50-49 heartbreaker. The team also has some talent of its own with twin sisters Tori Belcourt and Loni Belcourt leading the way. Both players are solid scorers who can attack the basket and hit the open trey.
“We are very excited to be back at divisionals,” Rocky Boy head coach Deb LaMere said. “We have a very tough game against Highwood, but we played well against them both times we faced them. So we'll be ready.”
The other first-round matchup will be at 1 p.m. between District 7C champion Denton and District 10C runner-up Valier.
Denton is 12-9 and will be looking to make up for last season when it exited the tournament after just two games. The team is led by their solid frontcourt of Jennessa and Barbara Todd.
Valier is 10-12, the only team with a losing record in the tournament. Valier upset Dutton-Brady in the 10C challenge game to get to this point and hopes that behind the solid play of Ashia Snyder the team can pull a few more upsets before it's done.
The Northern C Divisional Tournament will continue through Saturday night at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.