It’s a well known fact that in most years, the Northern C Girls Divisional Tournament is probably more difficult than the Class C state tourney itself.
As expected, 2012 is most likely one of those years.
The 2012 Northern C girls tournament will feature four of the top six Class C teams in the state, and four more, all of which could easily be ranked.
Two of those four teams come from the Havre area, in Box Elder and Chester/J-I. The Bears (20-0) come into Great Falls ranked No. 2 in the state and are fresh off a District 9C championship. The 10C champion Hawks (18-2) are ranked No. 6 in Class C and their only two losses come against the third Hi-Line team to make the Northern C field, District 9C runner-up Chinook (15-6). The Sugarbeeters are back in the Northern C for the second straight season after beating North Star in a challenge game on Monday night.
“It’s pretty much all of the same teams as last year,” Chinook head coach Charlie Robinson, who guided the Beeters to a fourth-place finish at the 2011 Northern C said. “You’ve got a lot of really good teams in one tournament. But I think that’s what gives everybody a chance because everyone is good enough that I don’t think you’ll see any one team go out and just blow other teams out.”
And while the three Hi-Line teams are all very good, the rest of the field this week in Great Falls isn’t too shabby either.
Belt (20-0) is the No. 1 team in the state and the defending Northern C champions. Winnett-Grass Range (20-0) is ranked fourth in the state and comes into the Northern C having just one the District 7C title. Both the Huskies, led by head coach Jeff Graham and the Rams went to the state tourney out of the loaded Northern C a year ago. That alone makes three teams in the field without a loss.
Rounding out the Northern C field this week is 7C runner-up Roy-Winifred (17-4), 8C runner-up Geraldine (13-7) and 10C runner-up Valier (12-9). The Panthers made it back to the Northern C for the third straight season after winning a 10C challenge game Monday night in Cut Bank.
The Beeters will be up first Thursday, taking on the Huskies at 12:30 p.m. Chinook lost to Belt in the Northern C semifinals a year ago, but the Beeters return pretty much their entire team from that game. Chinook senior Taryn Norby averaged 15 points per game this season and will hopefully be healthy this week in Great Falls. Norby went down with an injury in Monday night’s challenge game. Chinook will also use its size to its advantage against the high-scoring Huskies. Sophomore Makhayla Farmer, senior Kayla Hanson and junior Alana Smith will challenge Belt’s defense inside. Chinook also relies on depth, with players like Haley Swank, Emily Dennis and Tayla Hanson. The Huskies are led by Holly Croff and Katie Fertterer, but Belt really has eight players, all who can score the ball at any time.
“We played a lot of these teams tough last year in this tournament and some of them we’ve played this season,” Robinson said. “So I feel like we’ll be well prepared for whatever we face. Belt will be a big challenge for us. They are a very good team with a lot of shooters. But we gave them a good game last year and hopefully we can do the same this time.”
Following that game, the Box Elder Bears will take to the floor in their quest to keep their perfect season going. The Bears have been a dominant scoring machine all season long and come to the Northern C for the fourth time in the last six years. Box Elder hasn’t advanced to the state tourney in that stretch, but Thursday’s 4 p.m. game against Geraldine will be the first step.
Box Elder guards Aricka Wolf Chief and Crystal Stamper combine to average over 30 points per game, but post players Brandi Buffalo, Breanna Matt and Caitlin Gamble will be key in this tournament. Box Elder is the smallest team in the tourney, so its posts will have to defend and rebound against much bigger teams.
“It is going to be a tough field, but I think we bring a lot to the table and we are looking to go down there and be competitive,” Box Elder head coach Joel Rossette said. “We aren't going down there for a vacation, we are going down there to compete and win.”
The Tigers are also back in the Northern for a second straight year. Geraldine has had another solid season, with sisters Kordin and Tayler Duvall leading the way. Heather Wichman is another player to watch for Geraldine.
“There is going to be a lot of competition, I think we just have to bring our game, and show the composure that we showed tonight (9C championship), and we will be fine,” Rossette said. “We will mix it up on both sides of the ball, it just depends on the team we are playing, I feel like we can adapt to play anybody.”
The final first-round game Thursday will pit Chester/J-I against Roy-Winifred in what might be the most evenly matched game of the first round. The Hawks are perhaps the deepest team in the field with Jenni Ghekiere, Nikole Wolfe, Jocelyn Woods, Kate Graff and Stina Haaland all having big-time tournament experience. C/J-I is also very athletic and has put together a stellar season under second-year head coach Pat Goldahan.
However, the Red Raiders are always a team to be reckoned with this time of year. They have lost three times to Winnett-Grass Range this season, or they too wide like come in as one of the higher seeds. Emily Bergum leads the Raiders in scoring, and like C/J-I, they too have a deep and talented team.
The first round begins with the Rams taking on Valier, two more teams from last year’s Northern C field. Winnett-Grass Range’s Martha Dembek is just a junior, but she will already be playing in her third Northern C, and she’s widely considered one of the top players in all of Class C basketball.
The winners of Thursday’s games move on to the semifinals, which are slated for 4 and 5:30 p.m. on Friday. The loser-out games are set for 8 and 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning. The girls consolation game will be played at 7 p.m. Saturday night and the championship game is slated for 8:30 p.m. The top two teams from the Northern C advance to the Class C state tourney which will take place March 8-10, also in Great Falls.