The District 9C girls basketball tournament is always one of the most highly-anticipated events each year on the Hi-Line.
But perhaps no 9C tourney has had as much excitement surrounding it as the one that’s set to begin Wednesday afternoon at the Havre High gymnasium.
It’s been a great season of 9C girls basketball, with all five teams being competitive from start to finish, and that should make for one exciting ride over the next four days.
But the Bears (18-0, 8-0) have big aspirations this week. Not only do they want to win the 9C title, but they are looking for even more in the postseason and head coach Joel Rossette has the team to do it.
Box Elder has one of the top scorers in all of Class C basketball in senior Aricka Wolf Chief, who averages just over 20 points per game. And with standouts Crystal Stamper and Brandi Buffalo, as well as plenty of depth, the Bears will be a heavy favorite this week in Havre.
But the other four teams in the 9C can’t be discounted, especially Chinook and Big Sandy.
The Sugarbeeters (13-5, 5-3) are the defending 9C champions and return four of five starters from last year’s team. Chinook, under legendary head coach Charlie Robinson, is led by senior Taryn Norby, who just recently signed to play for MSU-Northern next fall. The Beeters also have a dominant post presence in 6-1 sophomore Makhayla Farmer, who burst onto the 9C scene as a freshman at last year’s tourney.
Big Sandy (5-3, 12-4) has roared back into contention this season too. After going 0-2 last year in Havre, the Pioneers are pushing to reclaim their rightful place at the top of the 9C standings. Mateila Cline has been a force for the Pioneers this season, averaging nearly 16 points per game. Sophomore Molly Herron is another one to watch for Big Sandy this week.
While North Star and Hays-Lodge Pole have brought up the rear in the 9C this season, that doesn’t mean either team couldn’t win the tournament this week in Havre – because both are more than capable.
The Knights (1-7, 7-11) struggled in conference play at times, but they have senior Shelby Lipp and junior Lisa Carlon, who together form a potent scoring tandem. HLP (1-7, 5-13) won just once as well in conference play, but the Thunderbirds have a pair of dynamic scorers in Kristie Runsabove and Shakayla Whitecow, and they helped HLP make a great run last year in Havre.
The Knights and T-Birds will square off in the first girls game Wednesday, which will take place at 4:30 p.m. The winner of that game will advance to play Box Elder in Thursday’s semifinal round.
Chinook and Big Sandy will face each other in a huge semifinal game at 6 p.m. on Thursday, with the winner moving into Saturday night’s championship game. The winner will also have a chance to advance to the Northern C – which is the ultimate goal this week in Havre.
The loser of the Chinook/Big Sandy game will play the loser of the HLP/North Star bout in a loser-out affair Friday afternoon. The girls consolation game will be played at 1 p.m. Saturday and the girls championship game is set for 6 p.m. Saturday night.
"Box Elder is the favorite," Big Sandy head coach Michelle Beck said. "Chinook should do well too. We are hoping to play well and get back to Saturday night at the tournament."
The top two teams from the 9C tournament will advance to the Northern C Divisional Feb. 22-25 at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
Note: Fans can follow the 9C boys and girls basketball tournament all week with the Havre Daily News, on Twitter at twitter/havredaily and at www.havredailynews.com.