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Rocky Boy, Harlem girls chase dreams in Cut Bank

Morning Stars and Wildcats playing for a coveted trip to state at the Northern B


Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Harlem's L'Tia Lawrence, left, handles the ball during a District 2B game against Poplar back in January in Harlem. The Wildcats are in Cut Bank this week trying to earn a rare berth in the Class B state tournament. The Northern B girls divisional runs today-Saturday. The top two teams from the Northern B move on to next week's state tournament in Missoula.

When it comes to Class B girls divisional basketball, there may be no divisional that is more difficult than the Northern B.

In years past, teams like Matla and Fairfield, who each have numerous state championships, dominated the Northern B Divisional. But this year in Cut Bank, things might turn out different and two local teams, Rocky Boy and Harlem, plan on crashing the party, which starts today in Cut Bank with the first game between Wolf Point and Shelby at 1. Harlem will play Fairfield at 2:30, Rocky Boy will play Malta at 6:30, before the finale between Cut Bank and Poplar at 8.

"Lord willing, the Rocky Boy Morning Stars will play up to their potential," Rocky Boy head coach Cameron McCormick said. "And let the rest be written in the annals of history. The Northern B Divisional, in Malta and Fairfield, have produced the Class B state champion for the last 11 years and that's where we are headed."

McCormick isn't just talk, either. Fresh off their first District 1B championship, the Morning Stars are on a roll. Rocky Boy recently won its first district title in 11 years after notching wins over Choteau and Fairfield. It was the first time since moving to Class B that the Morning Stars won a district championship.

Rocky Boy will open with Malta, the No. 4 four team from the 2B. The Morning Stars are the heavy favorites to win that game, and they are led again by a lineup that features both talent and depth. Sean Henry and Adrienne Gopher paced the Morning Stars after both were outstanding at districts. Henry scored 34 points in semifinals and championship, while Gopher pitched in with 33. Other key contributors for Rocky Boy include Sasha Coffee, Jaylynn Mitchell, Jaynah Gopher and Rochelle please.

The Morning Stars will be favored to beat Malta, but, after that, it will get the winner of Poplar and Cut Bank for a trip to the championship game if they make it past the M-Ettes in the opening round. Like Rocky Boy, the road to the state tournament isn't easy for Harlem either.

"It's going to be a tough, tough division," Harlem head coach Laramie Schwenke said. "You can't take anything for granted. Every team at this point is good. You can't overlook anybody."

The Wildcats (16-4) are in divisionals after dropping three of their last four games, including the 2B semifinal to Wolf Point, which won the 2B championship. In the next game, Harlem drubbed Malta, showing that maybe the young Wildcats learned a thing or two from their latest go around at districts.

"I think we just learned you have to take it one game at a time," Schwenke said. "You can't look ahead, you have to stay focused on the team that is in front of you. This time of year, everyone is going to be good. Everyone starts at 0-0. That has to be our mindset, it doesn't matter if you have beaten a team before or not, the only thing that matters is the next game."

As the third-place team from the 2B, the Wildcats will take on Fairfield, the second-place finisher at the 1B District Tournament. While the Eagles aren't the powerhouse they once were, they are more than capable of giving Harlem struggles.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Jaylynn Mitchell and the Rocky Boy Morning Stars are a top seed at this weekend's Northern B tournament in Cut Bank.

"Fairfield is a solid team," Schwenke said. "They don't have a lot of height so I think we match up pretty well against them."

The Wildcats are another talented team, but one that isn't incredibly deep. L'Tia Lawrence runs the show as the point guard, while two of her top-scoring teammates Skylee Dirden and Payton Healy are also important, as is Autumn Eagleman, another important shooter.

"It's going to be a fun and tough and exciting tournament," Schwenke said. "We have a chance to be right there with anyone. It's going to be tough and the Northern B is always very competitive. We just have to go out and try to relax, minimize the distractions and play our best basketball."

A win would get Harlem into the semifinals against either Wolf Point or Shelby. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday night at 8. The third-place game will be at 6:30 p.m. Only two teams make it to state this season.


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