The 2013 District 9C tournament ended with Chinook beating North Star in Saturday night’s championship game. The same went for Chester/J-I, which ended the 10C tourney with an emphatic win Saturday night as well.
And it’s a short turnaround for all three teams as the Sugarbeeters, Hawks and Knights all begin Northern C Divisional play this afternoon in Great Falls. And while all three local teams come to the Northern C with high hopes, and playing at a high level, the next three days in Great Falls will be as difficult a test as there is in Montana high school girls basketball.
The Northern C features three of the top five teams in Class C in top-ranked and defending state champion Belt (19-1), second-ranked Winnett-Grass Range (20-0) and fifth-ranked Roy-Winifred (18-2). Throw in a tough Geraldine (15-6) squad with the three Hi-Line teams and you have the makings of a classic tournament inside the Four Seasons Arena.
“Everybody is good when you get to this point in the season,” Chinook head coach Charlie Robinson said. “There are some very good teams down there, obviously Belt and Winnett-Grass Range are the favorites. It’s going to be a tough tournament.”
Chinook is going to divisionals for the third straight season, and the Beeters (17-3) will open play tonight at 7:30 against 10C runner-up Dutton-Brady (12-9). In the opener, Chinook should be heavily-favored against the upset-minded Diamondbacks, who only finished third in the 10C regular season, but made a strong run last week in Conrad. Dutton-Brady will have to contend with Chinook’s size, as will the rest of the field. Makhayla Farmer is perhaps the top post player in the Northern C, while athletic players like Emily Dennis, Alana Smith and Tavin Schneider will also create matchup problems this week.
“We kept improving all season,” Robinson said. “We haven’t won the conference in 16 years, so winning the conference and the district tournament twice in three years is a great thing.”
The opening game of the tournament may be the best of the first day as rivals North Star (15-5) and Chester/J-I (18-2) square off at 1. The Knights are one of just two teams to beat the Hawks this season, so today’s game between the two schools separated by just 15 miles should be a great battle. North Star freshman Graysen Spicher could be an x-factor today, while the Knights also get good scoring from Lisa Carlon, Bettie Carlon and Tylynn Rettig. C/J-I is athletic and balanced, with Denerey Haaland, Haley Harmon, Kate Graff, Brittnee Theel and Cailtlin Vinson all capable of scoring double figures.
“I think this environment was good for our kids,” North Star head coach Griff Bye said after last Saturday’s championship game. “I think we played nervous in the championship. But I am hoping this experience will relax us and we play better next week.”
In between the two local games today, Belt will face off against Roy-Winifred at 2:30 and Winnett-Grass Range will take on Geraldine in what should be a great game at 6.
The Huskies, under former Chester star Jeff Graham, have a bevy of talented players, including Kara Gerke and Katie Fertterer among others. The Tigers have a standout in Korbin Duvall, while Winnett-Grass Range is like Chinook, tall and athletic, and has one of the top scorers in all of Class C basketball in senior Martha Dembek.
The Northern C continues on Thursday with loser-out action in the morning, and the semifinals set for 7 and 8:30 p.m. There are loser-out games Friday morning, while the consolation game is set for 7 p.m. Friday and the championship game slated for 8:30 p.m. The top two teams from the Northern C will advance to the Class C state tournament Feb. 28-March 2 in Belgrade.
“It should be a great tournament,” Robinson said. “We are excited. We lost seven players off last year’s team that got fourth down there, and we’re going again. So this team has really come together.”