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Box Elder's Night in Butte


March 12, 2018

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

The Box Elder girls with their 2018 Class C state championship trophy Saturday night inside the Butte Civic Center. The Bears defeated Winnett-Grass Range for their first state champion -ship since 1998.

BUTTE - The Butte Civic Center has as much history inside it as any gymnasium in the state of Montana. Included in the annals of the grand old gym was Box Elder's first boys basketball championship in two decades, which happened five years ago.

On Saturday night, Box Elder did it again - only this time, it was the girls who etched their name into the lore the of Civic Center.

The Box Elder girls captured their first state championship in 20 years Saturday night, beating Winnett-Grass Range 52-34 for the 2018 Class C title.

"This feels amazing," Box Elder junior Lilly Gopher said. "The last time Box Elder won a girls state championship was 1998. And we wanted to be the team to do it again. We worked really hard for this and we did it."

The Bears indeed worked hard, and just two years ago had gotten close, when they lost in the 2016 title game to Belt in Great Falls. Two years later, however, there was going to be no denying the Bears a second time.

"It sounds cliché, but it really is true," Box Elder head coach Joel Rosette said. "But the hard work does pay off. These girls worked very hard to accomplish this. They had a dream and a goal, so the victory, it feels sweet."

Saturday night's victory, a game in which Box Elder only trailed once all night, was also the culmination of an emotional journey through the 2018 postseason. The Bears steamrolled their way to a perfect 18-0 regular season, winning all but one of their games by double digits.

From there, however, things got bumpy.

Going for their third straight District 9C championship last month in Havre, the Bears were stopped by Fort Benton in an overtime thriller for the ages. Box Elder bounced back in the Northern C semifinals, knocking off defending state champion Belt, and punching their ticket to state. And yet, one night later, the same Rams the Bears dominated Saturday night, upset Box Elder for the Northern C title.

Then came Thursday's opening round of the state tournament, and for a time, it looked like the Bears had hit another major speed bump in their state championship trip. Losing a 21-point lead to Twin Bridges, Box Elder trailed by four points with one minute left in that game. Ultimately though, senior Nikayla Anderson would drill a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in overtime to send the Bears into Friday's semifinals, where they raced past Froid-Medicine Lake.

"Now that we won, that shot is going to be something really special to me," Anderson said Saturday night. "When people think of this state championship, they're going to remember that shot. So that means a lot to me. I'm going to miss playing basketball, I'm going to miss being a Lady Bear. But this is the perfect ending."

"This team is all about resiliency," Rosette added. "Sure, we hit a couple of bumps at districts and divisionals, but I think it only fueled these girls more. After each of those losses, these girls came back and had the best weeks of practice all season. They could have moped and cried about it, but instead, it motivated them, and even in this tournament, it was tough, but they just weren't going to be denied this. They really went out and earned this."

Havre Daily News/Ryan Welch

Box Elder senior Nikayla Anderson, right, gets a hug after the Bears beat Winnett-Grass Range for the Class C state championship Saturday night in Butte. It was a historic night for the Bears, who captured their first girls championship in 20 years.

What Box Elder earned is a place in the storied history of Box Elder athletics, not just basketball, but in all of Box Elder sports. Finishing the season 22-2, and capping it all off with a state championship, the Bears will go down in history as one of the great teams in all of Box Elder's incredibly rich sports tradition.

"We did it," a tearful Maddie Wolf Chief said as she embraced her family. "We finally did it."

Yes, Maddie, you and the Bears did indeed do it. You won a state championship, and in a season in which the Bears piled up wins, and excited its legion of fans, so many who were in Butte to see it for themselves, all winter long, no ending could have been more perfect than the one the Bears had Saturday night in the grand old Civic Center.

"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. You couldn't ask for a better ending."


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