For six girls basketball teams, the season hangs in the balance over the next four days inside the Havre High Gymnasium. And by the time Saturday night turns to Sunday, only two will still be playing basketball in 2013.
On Wednesday afternoon, the 2013 District 9C girls basketball tournament begins with two girls games. The tournament will run through Saturday with the girls consolation game set for 1 p.m. Saturday and the girls championship game slated to tip off at 6 p.m. The top two teams from the 9C will advance to next week’s Northern C Divisional in Great Falls.
Box Elder comes in as the defending 9C champion, while Chinook took down North Star in a challenge game last year to also advance out of the district. But the Bears (10-8) enter as the No. 4 after going 4-6 in league play, and are an in underdog role trying to defend their 9C title this week.
Meanwhile, the Sugarbeeters (15-3) lost just once in league play this season and will be the top seed in Havre. Chinook captured the 2011 9C title and is trying to make it back to the Northern C for the third straight season. The Beeters will have a first-round bye and won’t play until Thursday’s semifinals.
The North Star Knights also have a bye this week as the No. 2 seed. The Knights (14-4) went 8-2 in the regular season and are poised for a big week in Havre. North Star lost just one game after the holiday break, and that loss came just this past Saturday to Big Sandy. The Pioneers (11-7) are the No. 3 seed this week and are yet another team which could easily reach Saturday night’s 9C title game. Big Sandy has struggled at the last two 9C tournaments, but the Pioneers are no longer a young team on the rise, and they should be right in the mix this week.
Big Sandy will begin the tournament against sixth-seeded Turner (1-17) Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Tornadoes are back in the 9C tourney for the first time in three seasons, and though they didn’t win a league game this winter, it certainly great to have them back. Turner has several exciting players, including eighth-grader Ella Billmeyer, and as young as Turner is, the future for Tornado basketball looks bright and this week will be a good experience.
Hays-Lodge Pole (6-12) is the No. 5 seed and will open against Box Elder at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The Thunderbirds won just twice in conference play and have been a bit of a surprise this season. Being one of the tallest teams in the league, and possessing the 9C’s top scorer in Shakayla Whitecow, who averages nearly 20 points per game, it looked as though HLP might be one of the team’s to beat in the 9C this season. But that’s the beauty of the tournament — everyone starts over and HLP could be a dangerous club over the next four days.
The winner of the Box Elder/HLP matchup will square off against Chinook in the semifinals Thursday at 1 p.m. On the other side, either Big Sandy or Turner will face North Star in the semifinals, Thursday at 6 p.m.
And with two coveted spots to the Northern C on the line this week in Havre, the 9C tourney should be a barn burner with plenty of exciting storylines. Those lines include new coaches at North Star and Big Sandy going up against 9C veterans like Chinook’s Charlie Robinson and Box Elder’s Joel Rossette.
"It should be another great District 9C tournament," Robinson said. "If we can put it all together, I believe that we can win the 9C championship game. A big key for us is the improved play lately by our bench players. With improved depth, this allows to do more things during the game, giving us more options as some players match up better versus some teams than others."
And then there’s the players. There is a lot of talent in the 9C tourney this year, including Chinook’s Makhayla Farmer and Emily Dennis, just two of a deep and athletic Beeter roster. North Star has Lisa and Bettie Carlon to go along with plenty of depth around them, while Big Sandy is led by the scoring talents of Mateila Cline and Molly Herron, as well as the inside presence of Kaylie Gilman. The Pioneers too have plenty of depth to go with that trio. Also watch for stars to emerge from Box Elder, like Rebecca Rossette and Krista Chief Stick, as well as HLP’s Chassanna Doney and Turner’s Shania Maloney.
And at the end of the day, it’s going to be tough to predict a winner. Chinook, North Star and big Sandy all have teams capable of capturing the 9C crown, while Box Elder might just be the dark horse in the field. In other words, like in many years past, the 9C tournament is going to be unpredictable and its going to come right down to the wire.
The District 9C girls tournament begins Wednesday at 1 p.m. and runs through Saturday night’s championship game which is set for 6 p.m. All of the action takes place at the HHS gymnasium in Havre and the top two teams from the 9C join the 7C, 8C and 10C at next week’s Northern C in Great Falls. For more, see the 9C Preview in today's HDN.