There’s a different feel to girls basketball for Great Falls Central these days.
I had that epiphany walking up to the nosebleed section of the Great Falls Central cheering section inside Swarthout Fieldhouse to visit with a family I knew. As I trudged up the stairs at Great Falls High the Mustang faithful applauded and cheered like a fan base with years of experience.
As I sat with the Mustang fans and shot the breeze I cracked a joke, “Would you look at all these fair-weather fans?”
Sitting at the top of the Swarthout Fieldhouse bleachers that joke made me think about how far the Central girls have come since I went to school there.
Not that long ago, Great Falls Central didn’t win any games. The Mustangs didn’t win games for years. Heck sometimes they didn’t score in double-figures.
But look at them now.
The back-to-back District 10C Champions have righted the ship so much so that they have been ranked in some prep polls as a top-five team in Class C.
Under the direction of first year head coach Greg Horton the Mustangs bring an intensity on the defensive end that hasn’t been rivaled in the 10C. That’s why this Divisional tournament is so important for them. Can they prove they belong with the powerhouses that annually call the Four Seasons Arena home?
Central loves to trap and press and correspondingly that gives the Mustangs’ Bryn Anderson a multitude of opportunities to score in transition, and score she does. Anderson leads Central in scoring and steals and might lead the whole state of Montana in fast break layups. Anderson has proven to be a force in the 10C but will that translate against stronger competition when the wide-open layups don’t come as often?
Central’s defense leads their offense but the most important cog for the Central team is senior Kenadee Depner. Depner is the glue player that a team with lots of talent needs to ascend to the next level. Depner grabs rebounds, boxes out, distributes the ball, and plays strong defense in the half court. These are the kinds of players that help turn programs around.
But the process of turning around the Central team didn’t start in the last year or two. It was a long-haul process that former head coach Angie Dowson undertook when she had to start by focusing on fundamentals. Dowson slowly helped to turn around a program that was so bad for so long.
Utilizing players like Maggie Shane, Allison Paul, and Katie Wilson the Mustangs were able start compiling wins little by little. Then came a new crop of girls with a little more experience and with the experience came a move out of the difficult 8C.
The Mustangs have benefited from the redistricting of the Northern C and thrived inside the 10C.
And the change in the culture of the Central program has the chance to take the next step this Wednesday afternoon when they take on the winner of the Winnett-Grass Range v. North Star game that opens the tournament.
I look forward to trudging up the steps of the Central section in the Four Seasons Arena at the Northern C Divisonal tournament because it is refreshing for an alumnus to look at a bleacher section full of fans sporting the blue and gold.
And to recognize how far the Mustang girls have come in the last few years.