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Bears win first title in 20 years


Ryan Welch

BUTTE - The Box Elder girls didn't win the District 9C championship in 2018. They didn't win the Northern C title either. But, on Saturday night inside the Butte Civic Center, none of that mattered. That's because the Bears beat Winnett-Grass Range 52-34 in the Class C state championship game. For Box Elder, their first state title in girls basketball in 20 years - that's the only trophy that mattered.

"We deserved this, we've worked so hard," junior Lilly Gopher said. "I'm so proud of my team, and the community, and everybody who supports us. It's so amazing."

The road to the state championship, Box Elder's first since 1998, was never easy. And it actually began two years ago when Box Elder lost to Belt in the state championship game in Great Falls.

"This team has always showed resilency," Box Elder head coach Joel Rosette said. "We talk about that all the time. Sure, we hit a few bumps at districts and divisionals. But that only made these girls more hungry. That really fueled these kids. They've worked hard. They come to practice and work hard every day. They really earned this and I'm so proud of them."

The Bears earned everything Saturday night. One of the bumps in the road this season was a loss to WGR in the Northern C two weeks ago. But in the rematch, the Bears showed who the superior team was.

Box Elder started the game with a Lilly Gopher layup, but early three's from Piper Johnson kept things close at 12-10 after the first quarter. From there however, the Bears took full control. Box Elder ripped off a 7-0 run capped by a big six points by Maia Henderson off the bench, and led 23-15 at the break. The run turned into a 14-2 run early in the third, and later, the Bears outscored WGR 10-2 with six points in the paint from Cecelia Vielle. That run put the Bears ahead 35-25 after three, and when Vielle and Gopher scored back-to-back layups midway through the fourth, the Bears led by 15 points and the state title was theirs, as Box Elder's large fan contingent chanted Go Bears Go, for the final two minutes of the game.

"It feels so good," Vielle, a transfer from Centerville said. "These girls are amazing. I wouldn't want to be a part of any team but this one."

Vielle finished the game with a double-double, 10 points and 13 rebounds, while Gopher led the way with 13 points and Henderson chipped in with eight. But on Saturday night, like all season long, defense and rebounding were the keys, as Box Elder dominated the Rams on the boards, and held them to just 27 percent shooting for the night.

"We work hard on the little things, defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball," Rosette said. "And we did that tonight. The only game we got out-rebounded all season long was against Winnett at divisionals. We were mad about that, and I thought the girls came out and really worked hard on defense and on the boards, and that was a huge difference in this game."

Hard work is also what got Box Elder to the top. The Bears have endured a lot over the years, despite piling up win-after-win, they watched the Box Elder boys win two state titles, and watched Northern C rival Belt run away with state championship after state championship. But, they never strayed from their ultimate goal, and Saturday night, they delivered the state championship Bears fans and players have been waiting for for a long time.

"These girls are an incredible group," Rosette said. "They have sacrificed a lot to get here. They put in the time in the gym, in the weight room and in the summer. They have never stopped working for this. They never gave up on their dream, and tonight, they realized that dream. It's special a special moment for them, and our community."

For complete Box Elder coverage, see Monday's Havre Daily News.

Box Elder 52, WGR 34

WGR 10 5 10 9 - 34

Box Elder 12 11 12 17 - 52

WGR - Sydney Browning 10, Brynn Jolma 4, Piper Johnson 15, Kendra Murnion 2, Katie Zimmerman 3.

BE - Eve The Boy 6, Maddie Wolf Chief 9, Lilly Gopher 13, Joelnell Momberg 3, Ceceliz Vielle 10, Nikayla Anderson 3, Maia Henderson 8.


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