A lot of local squads are gearing up to start their basketball seasons this weekend at one tournament or another. And with the 9C already looking to be a tight race on both the girls and boys sides of things, Hi-Line fans can expect to see a lot of good basketball over the next couple of months.
District 9C basketball has continually proven to be a dominant force in Montana basketball. The games never disappoint, and the rivalries are strong while the talent is deep. This year should prove that to be true even more than recent seasons.
On the boys side of things, Chinook, Big Sandy, North Star, Box Elder, Hays-Lodge Pole and Turner are all looking for winning season, and an extended post season filled with successful tournaments, more importantly a successful state tournament with a shot at a title.
Right now, though it is early, the Chinook Sugarbeeters are hearing whispers of being the top team. They were the No. 1 team in the district a year ago and have reloaded after losing four of their starters. But with a deep talent pool, the Beeters will be carried by 6-3 junior Grant Tilleman and 5-10 sophomore Zach Molyneaux, both coming off of decent seasons. 6-4 senior Barry Murnion is also expected to pitch in this season, adding to the Beeters’ depth and sixe down low.
But the Box Elder Bears and Big Sandy Pioneers are also vying for the No. 1 spot early as well.
The Bears made the divisional tournament last season after defeating the Pioneers in the 9C challenge game. And with standout players like Jesse Ramos and Lance Young returning, things are looking good early. Ramos and Young both have quickness and the ability to knock down shots from all over the floor. They will lead the way offensively and defensively for the Bears, but supporting players like 6-4 Thomas Parisian give the Bears size inside and the ability to matchup with any team in the district.
The Pioneers may be the hungriest team this season. After the loss to the Bears in the 9C challenge game, the Pioneers failed to reach the divisional tournament for the first time in a very long time. But the Pioneers have to overcome five key losses to the roster, which means returning guards Trevor Lackner and Zac Leader and post Justin Stevens have to have great seasons if they wish to get back on track.
The HL-P Thunderbirds are looking to make some noise this season as well, even with no returning starters on the roster this season. But what they lack in experience, they more than make for in hungry players and athleticism.
The Thunderbirds will have their stumbling blocks, but should be a factor late in the season if they can steadily improve from start to finish. Nolan Werk and Trent Kirkaldie will carry the load. They both had solid varsity minutes last season, but could break out this season getting starting minutes.
North Star and Turner have a lot of ground to make up this season, but they too are hopeful they can be playing their best basketball by the end of the season.
The Tornadoes only won a couple of games last season, but return their most experienced team in years. Starters Aaron VanVaulkenburg, Levi Humphreys, Alton Mathews and Dusty Mohar return for Turner.
And for the Knights, they too suffered some key losses and will heavily lean on the talents of Jordy Donoven. Donoven highlights all returners and is very explosive on the offensive side of the ball. He has the ability to drive through the paint, but can also pull up and knock down the 3-pointer. He will have to build on last seasons success to help push the Knights into the post season after going 1-2 at the 9C tournament last year.
On the girls side of the 9C the race could be even closer for the Beeters, Bears, Pioneers, Thunderbirds and Knights.
The Beeters won the 9C tournament last season and finished fourth at the Northern C tourney in Great falls. And the Bears won the regular season title and wound up losing to the Beeters in the consolation semifinals at the Northern C. Both squads found and abundance of success behind good talent, and could very well move even further up the ranks this time around.
All five starters return for the Beeters, including All-Conference guard Taryn Norby, Kayla Hanson and Makhayla Farmer. And for the Bears, they return Aricka Wolf Chief, one of the top guards in the 9C, coming off of a season with a 20 points per game average.
The Thunderbirds are also packed with talent this year and are poised to make a great run. Last year they were one game away from a divisional birth and have the talent to take it a step further this year. 5-10 Kristie RunsAbove is a factor with her scoring and rebounding abilities and will be accented by a whole slew of returning talent.
North Star returns Shelby Lipp to the lineup, and she may very well be the best post player in the 9C. she averaged 16 points and 13 rebounds a game last season and will give fits to every team she faces in conference and non conference play. But Lipp will also have the likes of Lissa and Bettie Carlon pitching in from the guard position, giving the Knights great speed and penetration ability.
Last but not least, the Pioneers could be poised to shock the entire 9C. They were extremely disappointed in their finish last season and are ready to get back to a position of dominance. Last year at districts the Pioneers went 0-2. But molly Herron returns to the squad and is as good as any player she will face in conference play. Big Sandy also returns four other girls and is poised for a much improved season from a year ago.
There will be no easy games in the 9C this season, and each girls squad has a shot at finishing the regular season with a winning record. It is anybody’s year to make a run at a state tournament birth and it will be a tight race all season long.
The annual 9C boys and girls tournament runs February 15-19 in Havre at the HHS gymnasium.
Don't miss the Winter Sports Preview inside Friday's Havre Daily News.