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State A Girls Primer: Many familiar contenders back in Great Falls

State A girls field will be tough and talented in the Four Seasons Arena

 

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Havre High's Kylie Walker, right, lays up a shot during a Class A game between the Blue Ponies and Billings Central Rams back in December. There's a possibility that the Ponies and Rams could be headed for a third showdown in Saturday night's Class A state championship game, after Havre beat Billings Central in December, and the Rams winning in the Eastern A championship game two weeks ago. However, both teams have a tough field of Class A powers to contend with at this week's state tournament, which runs Thursday-Saturday at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.

It seems every year, the Class A girls state tournament gets better and better. And this year, it's bigger as the girls and boys are combined in Class A for the first time ever.

The girls state tourney runs Thursday-Saturday inside the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls, where five teams return from last year's field, including the top three in 2018 state champion Havre, runner-up Hardin and third-place Columbia Falls. Browning and Butte Central were also in the field a year ago, while Libby, Laurel and Billings Central are in after missing out a year ago.

With the combined state tourney, the format will see girls games on Thursday at 9 and 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 and 5 p.m. Friday loser-out games will be at 9 and 10:30 a.m. and the semifinals are set for 3:30 and 5 p.m. Saturday's loser-out games will be played at 9 a.m. at both the Four Seasons and CMR, while the consolation game is set for 3:30 p.m. and the state championship game at 6:30 p.m.

Here's a team-by-team breakdown of the 2019 Class A girls state tournament.

Columbia Falls Wildkats (22-1)

Western A Champions

The Wildkats are seemingly always in the Class A state tournament. They've won state titles and been one of the most successful programs in modern Class A history. And after finishing third at state a year ago, the Wildkats come to Great Falls loaded with talent and ready to get back to the top. Led by three double-digit scorers in Trista Cowan, Riley Kehr and Josie Windauer, who combine for more than 40 ppg, C. Falls is a potent offensive team, and appears headed for a showdown with the Havre Blue Ponies in the semifinals, provided the Wildkats get by a tough Laurel squad in the first round. Columbia Falls' last state championship came just back in 2017.

Laurel Locomotives (16-6)

Eastern A 4th Place

Laurel has had a big season, winning the tough Eastern A regular season title before battling its way to a fourth-place finish at the divisional tournament. The Locomotives are back at state after missing the big dance last season. Head coach Pat Hansen has done a great job with the young Locomotives, who get double digit scoring from Mya Hansen, Sammi Spitzer and Kaitlyn Dawes. Laurel, which last won a state championship in 2013, drew a tough assignment in Columbia Falls in the opening round, which tips of Thursday at 9 a.m.

Havre Blue Ponies (20-1)

Eastern A 2nd Place

The Ponies won their second state championship in the last four years last March in Great Falls, and they're hoping to make it a third title since 2014 in the Four Seasons Arena. Havre looked to have no equal for much of the season, with stars like Kyndall Keller, Kadia Miller, freshman Sadie Filius, and the deepest roster in Class A going undefeated in the regular season for the second year in a row. But a loss to Billings Central in the Eastern A championship game ended Havre's winning streak two weeks ago. Still, the Ponies, of longtime head coach Dustin Kraske, are in Great Falls as the heavy favorite to repeat as state champs.

Libby Loggers (17-9)

Western A 3rd Place

After dropping down to Class B for one year, Libby has made a quick rise up the Class A ranks this season, and the Loggers could be a dangerous team this week in Great Falls. Libby, which drew defending state champion Havre in the first round, Thursday at 10:30 a.m., is led by Jayden Winslow and her 15 ppg, while All Collins is another outstanding scorer. The Libby girls have never won, or appeared in a Class A state championship game.

Browning Indians (17-6)

Western A 2nd Place

The Indians have been on a great run in recent years. And while they haven't quite gotten to the mountain top, they've certainly been knocking on the door. Runner-up finishes in the last two Western A's have sent Browning to the state tournament consecutive years, and the Indians expect to be a force again this week after being in the semifinals a year ago. Tamika Guardipee and Taylor Jordan are Browning's top two scorers, but, they also have the likes of Dulci Skunkcap, Walker Running Crane and a deep bench that includes Chalissa and Chaslin Kipp. Browning has a huge first-round game with Hardin, and the winner of that game could find itself playing on Saturday night, and a trophy. Browning last won a state title in 1996.

Hardin Bulldogs (19-3)

Eastern A 3rd Place

Hardin was minutes away from upsetting Havre in the 2018 state championship game. Now, the Bulldogs are back trying to reach the chipper again. A Thursday afternoon matchup with Browning in the first round will be daunting, but, the Bulldogs are one of the most talented teams in the field, led by Marie Five, Every Fritzler and Camber Good Luck. The Bulldogs also have depth and are among the top scoring teams in the field, so once again, they're a legitimate state title contender. Hardin meets Browning at 3:30 p.m. Hardin's last state championship came in 1994.

Billings Central Rams (17-4)

Eastern A Champions

The Rams come into state with perhaps the most momentum, having beaten Havre in the Eastern A championship game. Interestingly, Billings Central only finished third in the Eastern A regular season standings. Still, the Rams, led by Olivia Moten-Schell, Melissa Hanser, Isabelle Erickson and Solei Elletson, have the strongest front line in the field and are a stout defensive team, and on their side of the bracket could have a huge semifinal showdown with either Hardin or Browning. Billings Central opens with Butte Central at 5 p.m. Thursday. The Rams last won the state championship in 2012.

Butte Central Maroons (11-13)

Western A 4th Place

Every year, there's a surprise team in the field, and this week, it's Butte Central. Though the Maroons were at state a year ago, they come to Great Falls with a sub.500 record. Still, BC has been a perennial powerhouse in Class A, and with standout Tricia Joyce leading the way, the Maroons will be looking to upset Billings Central in the opening round. Butte Central last won the state championship in 2011.

 

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