Who can stop Fort Benton?

District 9C girls field is as tough as ever, but the Longhorns are heavy favorites


February 18, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

North Star's Jade Wendland splits the Fort Benton defense during a District 9C girls back in December. The Longhorns and Knights are the top two seeds in this week's 9C girls tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday at the Havre High gymnasium.

The District 9C is easily the toughest girls basketball district in all of Class C. Year-after-year, the 9C can be an absolute bloodbath.

And while some of the power structure has shifted, the 2020 9C girls tournament will be as tough as ever. The action starts Thursday at 11 a.m. and runs through Saturday night's game at the Havre High gymnasium.

"The 9C is a battle and it comes down to who can get it done at the right time," Fort Benton head coach Cassie Pimperton said. "I think it's going to be a battle and there could be numerous teams that come out as the top three and advance to divisionals."

Being in the top three and advancing to Great Falls might not be an issue for Pimperton's Longhorns. They are unbeaten, they are the defending 9C champions, and they play as many as 12 players, led by stars Aspen Giese and McKenzie Clark.

The Longhorns are also on a quest to not only repeat as 9C champs, but also go to the state tournament, not just the Northern C. Big Sandy (2-16), led by Lainey Gregory, Amanda Cline and Deanna Demontiney will be Fort Benton's first test in the 9C, Thursday at 11 a.m.

"It's crucial that we are playing our best basketball of the season at tournament time and we're firing on all cylinders," Pimperton said. "We need to put together three solid nights of games."

Fort Benton's half of the draw also includes fourth-seeded Hays-Lodge Pole (11-7) and fifth-seeded Box Elder. HLP has risen to new heights this season, led by star scorer Mulleah Stiffarm and a deep roster. The Thunderbirds have risen quickly, too, going from having won just four games last season, to becoming instant 9C contenders in 2020.

"We are a very young team who have worked very hard together," head coach Cory Morgan said. "Their basketball IQ and experience has been improving, especially in the second half of the season. They remain focused and keeping their eye on their goal. I think the key is their ability to adjust to different styles of play. They are improving on their pressure defense and learning to be patient."

HLP takes on the defending state champion Bears (8-10) Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Box Elder has ups and downs this season, after the departure of longtime head coach Joel Rosette. But, leading scorer Sarah Parisian has led the young Bears all season long, and their first-round game with the T-Birds will be the most intriguing matchup of Thursday's games.

Meanwhile, the No. 2 seed this week in Havre is North Star (13-4). The Knights, of head coach Jen Wendland, have had a resurgence this year, and depth has been the key. Jade Wendland, Shayla Borlaug and Kenidee Wolery are veteran standouts for North Star, but the Knights are deep and tough, and they have a great shot at getting back to Great Falls for the first time in a while.

North Star opens the tournament against seventh-seeded Chinook (1-17). The Sugarbeeters have fallen on hard times this season, and youth has played a big part in that. They have little returning 9C tourney experience, and they will be big underdogs all weekend in Havre. Chinook battles North Star Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Turner (12-6), however, isn't an underdog at all. The Tornadoes, the No. 3 seed, have finished third at the 9C two straight years, and now they're looking for more, as in, to compete for a title. With veterans Sarah Billmayer and Shyan Krass, Turner should do just that this week. The Tornadoes take on a young Chester-Joplin-Inverness (5-10) squad, led by standout athlete Tatum Hull, Thursday at 4 p.m. The winner will battle the North Star/Chinook winner in Friday's second semifinal, which is at 5:30 p.m. The first semifinal is set for 4 p.m. Friday.

And everything in the 9C girls tourney comes down to championship Saturday. The consolation game is set for 4 p.m. Saturday, with the championship at 5:30. And at stake are the three spots in next week's Northern C Divisional at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.

"I think the Girls 9-C tournament will be very exciting," Morgan said, "Fort Benton has been on top all year, but everyone has been playing them very well. There have been a few upsets and close games through out the season. I think if everyone is healthy, it is anyone's game. It's going to be a very competitive tournament."

The 2020 District 9C girls tournament runs Thursday through Saturday at the Havre His gymnasium.


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