By Kim Staudinger
The Chester Coyotes have been strong throughout the season, clinging on to a perfect 23-0 record. But none of that matters now as the Coyotes travel to Belgrade this weekend to compete in the state Class C tournament, where records mean nothing and heart means everything.
Six seniors will play their last weekend of prep basketball this weekend, each wanting nothing more than to end in the same place they have been all year first.
Starters Maci Tempel, Jamie Graham, Heidi Cicon, Chasi Buffington and Michele VanDyke will lead the way for Chester with Katy Engstrom and juniors Savannah Fisher and Amanda Schlepp adding depth to the bench. Courtney Fraser and Jillien Johnson also will make the trip to state.
The Coyotes have had a week of rest with Thanksgiving break, which means everyone should be healthy and prepared to bring a state title back to Chester.
"We've had a great week of practices," head coach Linda VanDyke said. "We've been going short, but going hard."
Chester's journey to the championship game begins Thursday night at 6:30 against Jordan (23-3). The players leave today at 11 a.m. and will stop at Carroll College in Helena for a short practice before they head to Belgrade.
While some teams add extra preparations and try new plays to surprise teams, the Coyotes are sticking with what has worked all year.
"I feel like we are well prepared," VanDyke said. "We've just been fine tuning everything."
Though the Coyotes have been fine tuning everything, one can bet all the other teams have been doing the same and it is guaranteed that everyone hopes to be the team to knock of the top-ranked Coyotes.
"We need to do what we have been doing all season long," VanDyke said. "We plan to press some and need to play good defense. We need to rebound and we've been rebounding well and shooting free throws well. We need to come with our game faces on and be ready to play."
With the season's end in sight, Chester can only hope the end comes with a victory Saturday night and not before. But often successful teams find themselves looking ahead which causes them to fall behind.
"I don't feel like you can ever underestimate an opponenet," VanDyke said. "Any team that makes it to state is a good team. It's time for us to put it all together and execute everything. If we execute and play with heart, good things will happen."
Good things will happen just as they did earlier this week when VanDyke's daughter, Michele, signed to play basketball for the Lady Griz next season.
Michele, who stands at 5-foot-10, averages 22 points and 12 rebounds per game. She also plans to compete for the track team.
"We are really excited," VanDyke said. "The Griz have a great program. Selvig has been there for a long time and there is a lot of stability in the program."
VanDyke will be used mainly as a small forward for the Griz. She is unsure of her major at this time.
VanDyke joins a very talented freshman class for UM which includes Katie Edwards of Lewistown, Kayla Lambert of Brockton, Corrie Villegas of Polson, Sara Gale of Corvallis, Ore., and Darci Sandoval of Las Vegas.
State tournaments schedule
Class AA at Missoula
Billings West (17-3) vs. Helena Capital (9-12)
Helena (15-5) vs. Great Falls (16-5)
Kalispell (18-2) vs. Billings Skyview (12-9)
Bozeman (16-4) vs. Missoula Hellgate (16-5)
Class B at Butte
Florence (22-2) vs. Baker (20-4)
Fort Benton (20-4) vs. Townsend (19-4)
Columbus (19-4) vs. Thompson Falls (11-13)
Wolf Point (22-1) vs. Troy (19-5)
Class C at Belgrade
Manhattan Christian (22-2) vs. Richey (21-4)
Harlowton (22-2) vs. Belt (20-4)
Chester (23-0) vs. Jordan (23-3)
Brockton (23-1) vs. Twin Bridges (21-5)