Five teams, only one semifinal and just three days, that’s the new-look District 9C girls basketball tournament.
But this year’s version, which kicks off tonight at 5 at the Havre High gymnasium will be just as intense as any. And although the 9C has changed over time, the excitement and the level of basketball hasn't.
The 2011 9C girls tournament will feature some of the best basketball teams in the area, and it starts with the Box Elder Bears (17-1), who have a chance to repeat as district champions this weekend. Box Elder, which is led by star guard Aricka Wolf Chief, and a host of talented, fast and good guards, has been the cream of the 9C crop all season long, and one win is all that stands between the Bears and a second straight berth in the Northern C tournament. That’s because Box Elder has a bye into Friday’s girls semifinal in this new-look bracket.
But there is plenty of challengers standing in the Bears way this weekend in Havre.
The tournament starts tonight with North Star (6-11) taking on Hays-Lodge Pole (6-12) with the winner of that game meeting Box Elder Friday at 6:30 p.m.
The Knights, who played Box Elder for last year’s district championship, may have had a disappointing season record-wise, but now records mean nothing. And longtime head coach Brian Campbell’s team is definitely tournament savvy. The Knights are led by junior forward Shelby Lipp, who is already making her third 9C tournament appearance. But shooters Bridjour Han and Jordan Spicher will be called upon to help spark the Knights, especially tonight against HLP.
The T-Birds, despite their overall record, are perhaps the most dangerous team in this weekend’s field and they’ll be a tough task for North Star tonight. HLP comes into the tourney with a recent win over Big Sandy, and the T-Birds are the biggest team in the field, with the likes of Kristie Runs Above and Shayla White Cow, while Anita Denny is a big time scorer.
And while the winner of tonight’s game gets a date with favored Box Elder, the other two teams in the field have just one game to play with a berth in Saturday night’s championship on the line.
On Friday at 1 p.m., Big Sandy (12-6) and Chinook (10-8) will do battle with plenty at stake.
For years, the Pioneers were the dominate team in the 9C, and they’d like to get back there again. Big Sandy missed out on playing Saturday night a year ago, and while the Pioneers have a lot of youth in head coach Michelle Beck’s second season, they have the talent to go all the way this weekend. Big sandy is led by veterans Hannah Williams and Mackenzie Jenkins, but freshman Molly Herron will be one to watch as the Pioneers go head-to-head with Chinook on Friday.
And the Beeters might be the most intriguing team in the field this week. Led by legendary head coach Charlie Robinson, in his first year at Chinook, the Beeters are trying to get out of the district tournament for the first time since they dropped from Class B six years ago.
And Chinook might just have the team to do it. With star scorers Taryn Norby and Kayla Hanson, as well as host of talented players around them, Chinook is considered the most athletic team in the tournaments, and winning on Friday isn’t the only thing Chinook could do this weekend. Despite Box Elder’s dominance during the regular season, and Big Sandy and North Stars’s storied tournament history, the Beeters have the firepower to be the team to beat this weekend in Havre.
The winner of Chinook and Big Sandy will advance straight to the championship game. While the loser moves into Saturday’s loser-out bracket. The girls consolation game is set for Saturday at 2 p.m. and the championship game will take place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday night. All of the 9C action will go on at the HHS gymnasium with the top two teams advancing to the Northern C Divisional next week in Great Falls.