Havre Daily News
Reed Point-Rapelje comes into today's 2006 Class C state girls basketball tournament in Hamilton as the overwhelming favorite to repeat as state champions.
One of the teams that hopes to give the Pirates a run for their money is the Big Sandy Pioneers, led by coaching legend Roy Lackner. The Pioneers have won 22 consecutive games after losing their season opener to Highwood, and they are making their 16th trip to the state tournament under Lackner.
The Pioneers surprised everybody two weeks ago in Great Falls at the Northern C Divisional tournament when they knocked off No.2-ranked Chester/J-I and top-seeded Highwood on back-to-back nights to capture the divisional championship.
The Pioneers open the tournament today at 2 p.m. with 22-2 Twin Bridges, which finished second in the Western C division.
Twin Bridges is led by freshman standout Dawn Degel, who should provide the Pioneers with a tough test in today's opening round.
“They are a very good basketball team,” Lackner said. “They are about the same as us in terms of size and athleticism. But I think we have an advantage over them because of our ability to shoot the basketball.
“Their shooting is a little suspect and they rely a lot more on their defense than on their ability to score,” he added. “A lot is going to depend on how well we can shoot the ball. It will be a tough test, but at this level every team is good and every game is a challenge.”
The Pioneers are led by senior guard Kacy Herron and senior forward Naomi Williams. Herron provides the Pioneers with a talented ball-handler and scorer.
Williams is the force in the middle that really drives the Pioneers' success. She is tough to handle down low and she is also the team's leading rebounder.
Big Sandy also relies heavily on junior forward Shalayna Pearson, who was named MVP of the Northern C divisional tournament.
The Pioneers may be considered a dark horse at this weekend's tournament, but don't be surprised if Lackner has his team contending for a trophy on Saturday night.
“I honestly feel that we could play in the state title game,” Lackner said. “But we are going to have to play very well to get there. We can't come in and play OK or have an off night because every team is good here, and if you don't play well you will get beat.
“Reed Point-Rapelje is the favorite, “ he added. “But if we can shoot the ball well, we will be a tough out for anyone.”
Another team that may be getting overlooked a little bit this weekend is the Chester/J-I Hawks. After a stellar regular season, the Hawks (22-2) finished third in the Northern C, falling to Big Sandy in the semifinals. The Hawks came back to beat Winnett for third place, giving them the chance to square off against Highwood this morning. The Mountaineers (21-2) finished second at the Northern C tournament.
“I think that maybe some people might be doubting us right now,” C/J-I head coach Dustin Gordon said. “Because of that, we probably don't have as much pressure on us as some other teams do. But we are just excited for the opportunity and the kids are anxious to get after it.”
The Hawks will receive a pretty big boost when they take the floor against the Mountaineers as senior Brianne Wolfe, the team's spark plug, returns to the squad from injury.
“Brianne is our captain out on the floor,” Gordon said. “She is our best defensive player and we are a completely different team when she is out on the floor.”
The Hawks are also led by senior forward Mary DeVries, who has the ability to take over games at times with her dominating low-post play.
Keyla Briese leads the team in scoring and senior Amanda Violett runs the show from the point guard position.
“I think we have a distinct advantage because we have four seniors, who have been to state two times already,” Gordon said. “They are now comfortable with the stage they will be on and they know what it takes to win.”
Chester/J-I is making its third straight trip to the Class C state tournament. The Hawks finished third last season.
Highwood is in its first ever state tournament. The Mountaineers are led by Whitney Baum and Donnetta Gondeiro.
The Pioneers and Mountaineers will have a tougher road to travel than the other seven teams this weekend. Because the state tournament field was expanded to nine teams this year, C/J-I and Highwood's afternoon matchup is a play-in game, with the winner having to play again tonight against 23-1 Charlo at 8. The Vikings are the Western Division champions.
“I think, because we will have to play an extra game, fatigue is going to be a big factor,” Gordon said. “Whoever wins gets rewarded by having to turn around and take on Charlo the very same day. It's going to make it tougher on us for sure, but it sure beats sitting at home with no chance at all.”
The other two first-round matchups feature 23-0 Reed Point-Rapelje and 23-2 Circle at 12:30 p.m., and 21-3 Scobey against 16-7 Broadview-Lavina at 6:30 p.m.
Circle, which placed fourth at state a year ago, will have its hands full when the Wildcats take on the Pirates. Reedpoint-Raplje has won 49 straight games coming into today's tournament. The Pirates have six players returning from last year's state title team led by Elly Bruursema, Jordan Bruursema, Dani Henderson and Kristin Ballbach, all of whom average double figures in scoring.
“Reed Point-Rapelje is definitely going to be the team to beat,” Gordon said. “But as the Gardiner boys basketball team found out last weekend, the best team does not always win the state tournament. Anyone can be beaten and anything can happen.”
The Class C tournament in Hamilton will continue through Saturday night.