Coming into the 2011 District 9C girls basketball tournament, there was no bigger favorite then the Box Elder Bears. After all, the Bears were the defending 9C champions and they brought a sparkling 17-1 record to Havre.
However, somebody forgot to tell the Chinook Sugarbeeters about the Bears’ 9C coronation.
On Saturday night at the Havre High gymnasium, the upstart Beeters, led by legendary head coach Charlie Robinson, stunned the Bears and the rest of the 9C by winning the district championship 47-39. The huge upset was Chinook’s first 9C title ever (Chinook dropped to Class C six years ago). It was also the first winning season for a Chinook girls team in the same time frame, as well as their first district championship of any kind in 16 years.
“It’s surprising, it’s amazing, it’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” Robinson, who moved from North Star to Chinook this season said. “Our goal this year was to be playing on Saturday night, preferably in the championship game. And the kids made that happen. They came a long way from the start of the season to now. I’m just very proud of them. This is an incredible accomplishment for them.”
Even more so was the win over perhaps one of the most powerful teams in all of Class C basketball this season. Box Elder had steam rolled its way through the regular season and didn’t show any signs of slowing down. But on Saturday, the Beeters had a plan and it worked to perfection.
Box Elder is a small team, and the Beeters decided to pound the ball inside to standout 6-1 freshman Mahkayla Farmer, as well as forwards Alana Smith and Kayla Hanson. And the plan worked, although it took a while.
Chinook had to recover from 9-0 Box Elder run which gave the Bears a 17-11 lead at the start of the second quarter. But just as things were going good for the Bears, a trend also began which wound up really hurting Box Elder’s chances late in the game. In the second quarter, Brandi Buffalo and Rebecca Rosette wound up on the bench with foul trouble, even furthering Chinook’s ability to go inside to Farmer, who was dominant throughout the night.
And midway through the second period, Chinook ripped off a 13-5 run to take the lead, and the Beeters would never give it back.
“We didn’t play with any worries,” Farmer said. “We had lost to them twice this season, so we felt like we could play relaxed, play with nothing to lose. And it worked for us.”
And the Beeters did play looses and with a smile on their face in the second half. Eventually, Box Elder would lose all five starters to fouls, while Farmer and Smith continued to have their way in the paint. Box Elder did make a push late in the third quarter, but Taryn Norby drained a 3-pointer to put the Beeters up 37-31 with eight minutes to play. And although Box Elder closed the gap to four points on several big shots by Crystal Stamper down the stretch, Chinook calmly sunk free throws to ice game, and the 9C championship.
“Our goal was to play in the championship game this year,” Norby, who scored 13 points said. “And coach Robinson believed in us, believed we could get here. This is great for Chinook and coach Robinson has brought us a long way in one year.”
Smith matched Norby’s 13 points for the Beeters, but it was the dominating play of Farmer which really set the tone for the night. Farmer scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds as Box Elder just didn’t have an answer for her size. She and the rest of her team also took good care of the ball, handled Box Elder’s up-tempo pressure on defense and made key free throws in the final minutes of the game. Chinook shot an lopsided 39 free throws to Box Elder's 10.
The Bears were led by Aricka Wolf Chief’s game-high 18 points, while Stamper chipped in with 10 points. But Box Elder, a normally high-scoring team, shot just 30 percent from the floor and made only three triples. The foul trouble and Chinook’s 43-33 edge on the boards also hurt Box Elder’s chances of repeating as district champions.
“I think the biggest key was the fact that we didn’t turn it over as much this time,” Robinson said. “We turned it over 31 and 29 times in our two losses to them (Bears) during the season. But before the game, we said our first goal was take care of the ball. We had to take good care of the ball and once we did that, we wanted to be patient and utilize our size on the inside. And we were able to do those things successfully.
“This was a great team effort tonight,” he added. “Our posts, Makhalya Farmer, Alana Smith, Kayla Hanson and Hayley Swank all did a great job, they really stepped up to the plate and fulfilled their roles, not only tonight but all season long. And Ashley Bower and Emily Dennis did a real good job of taking care of the basketball. And Taryn Norby had an outstanding game, she’s our scorer, our best all-around player, but she also is learning how to win games, not just play good in games, and that made a big difference tonight. This really was a team effort tonight.”
As disappointing as the loss was for the Bears (18-2), they are still moving on to the Northern C tournament for the third time in four years. Box Elder will face undefeated and top-ranked Winnett-Grass Range (19-0) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday night in Great Falls.
As for the Beeters (13-7), they too have the chance to finally represent the 9C at the Four Seasons Arena later this week. Chinook will take on Winifred-Roy (15-5) in the first round of the divisional tournament at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.
And it’s something the Beeter girls program has been waiting for a long time, just like hoisting the 9C championship trophy on Saturday night.
“It’s really exciting,” Farmer said. “I’m just a freshman and this is something that Chinook hasn’t done in years, so to be a part of a championship team is really exciting. And to get to go and play at the divisionals, that’s really exciting too.”
Chinook is 9C girls champs, At Last!
Chinook 47, Box Elder 39 (1st)
Box Elder 16 9 6 8 — 39
Chinook 11 19 7 10 — 47
Chinook — Ashley Bower 0-0 0-0 0, Alana Smith 4-9 5-14 13, Haley Swank 0-1 1-2 1, Taryn Norby 2-7 7-10 13, Emily Dennis 0-2 3-4 3, Makhayla Farmer 7-17 2-6 16, Kayla Hanson 0-2 1-3 1. Totals: 13-38 19-39.
Box Elder — Brandi Buffalo 1-3 2-4 4, Megan Parker 2-4 1-2 5, Crystal Stamper 4-8 0-3 10, Aricka Wolf Chief 8-22 1-1 18, Tristan Parisian 0-1 0-0 0, Frankie Raining Bird 1-4 0-1 2, Rebecca Rosette 0-5 0-1 0, Shelbi Eagleman 0-3 0-0 0. Totals: 16-52 4-10.
3-pointers: Stamper 2, Wolf Chief 1, Norby 2. Fouls: Box Elder 29, Chinook 19. Fouled out: Buffalo, Parker, Stamper, Rosette, Wolf Chief, Bower.