And the Coulee Mourns

The small towns that dot the expanse of Montana are the lifeblood of America.

The two-lane highways that meander their way across bridges, over mountain passes, and cut their way through the never-ending farmland eventually make their way to a small town. An unfamiliar town becomes familiar as you cruise down main street past the post office, the local watering hole, and eventually the school.

It isn’t Mayberry, but it might as well be.

But sometimes towns like Mayberry have to bear a heavy heart.

Many of the hearts in Centerville, Montana and the surrounding area are a little heavier these days after the passing of Al Francetich.

If small towns in Montana are the lifeblood of America, then guys like Al are the heartbeat.

I was lucky enough to know Al and I’m not sure anyone could be more proud to be from the Coulee than Mr. Francetich.

This past February at the District 8C tournament, Al had the best seat in the house to watch his beloved Miners play for the district championship. But for anyone who knew Al, that wasn’t a surprise. He bled orange and black every day of his life.

He was a pillar of that community after all. Al played in Centerville’s only State Championship basketball game in 1952 where the Miners fell short to the Belfry Bats and served on the School Board for 20-plus years.

Where I got to share some of my favorite moments with Al was in the hospitality room at the Four Seasons Arena. He would arrive every morning with his stadium chair cushion and tournament program under one arm as he guided his way toward his perch from which he watched every game.

When the gym was cold and felt empty for early morning loser-out games he would sit draped in his 1995 Centerville Miner State Football Championship jacket with a cup of coffee and dutifully track the scores of the games as the day went along. Needless to say, he watched a lot of basketball.

When games got slow he would throw out a little comment just to get the others around the tables talking and then he’d lean back and wink at me. He knew what he was doing. If the game wasn’t much to watch he could watch the old curmudgeons around him argue for entertainment. Sharp as a tack that Al was.

What he really brought was a familiar face and a kind smile. He had stories to tell and was never without a listener. Al Francetich was the hospitality in the hospitality room.

That’s why the news of Al passing away hit me hard as I’m sure it did for the Coulee.

When I think of Centerville, I think of Al.

They just don’t make them like that anymore.

The small towns of Montana aren’t special on their own. They are special because of the people who call them home.

That is why losing Al, or anyone in a small community is so tough.

Often, small towns are a place that time forgot. The tumbleweed still rambles its way across the double yellow lines just outside of town and the fence near that faded mile marker will always lean just a smidge.

But time takes its toll where it affects us the most. It takes the pillars of our community and leaves an empty spot where they used to be. Their stool at the bar sits vacant, their old truck will sit idle, and the spot they sat in the bleachers for so many ballgames will be open.

So, let us remember to cherish those like Al while we’ve still got them and celebrate the ones who leave a hole in our hearts when they leave us.

Because a town like Mayberry isn’t the same without its people.

And the Coulee won’t be the same without ol’ Al.

Rest easy Mr. Francetich. We’ll miss you.

Advertisements

State C Boys Preview

State C Boys Preview

Bracket (PDF)

Northern C

Hays-Lodgepole

The Thunderbirds (21-2) won the Northern C in dramatic fashion with a 65-61 victory over Box Elder in one of the most entertaining games I’ve seen in a while. The purple and gold clad squad from northcentral Montana is guided by Derrick Shambo. Shambo’s squad is lightning quick in transition and has some real playmakers in Jace and Tyson Shambo. Hays has just two losses on the season with an early season loss to Arlee and a loss in the 9C Championship to Box Elder. Both losses have come against teams that have qualified for the Class C State Tournament which is really saying something. Look for some big things out of the Thunderbirds who are looking to get their first State Championship since the late great A.J. Long Soldier led the Thunderbirds to the title in 2007.

First Game: 2PM v. 2E Fairview

Box Elder

The Bears of Box Elder High School (18-4) are the defending State Champions entering this weekend’s action in Bozeman. The Bears, who beat Northern C Champion Hays-Lodgepole in the 9C Championship before falling in the Northern C title tilt, are coached by a class act of a coach in Jeremy MacDonald. MacDonald’s Bears have won two of the last three Class C State Championships and are led by Pernell Morsette, Tanner Parisian, and Trey Henderson. Morsette who plays as cool and collected as they come scored a game-high 29 points in the Northern C Championship against Hays-Lodgepole. Watch out for Box Elder to make a run this weekend after ending up on the “easier” side of the bracket.

First Game: 8PM v. 1E Scobey

Southern C

Bridger

The Bridger Scouts (17-6) won the Southern C Divisional last weekend defeating Plenty Coups 79-64. With the Southern C playing their tournament a week later than the others around Montana it will be interesting to see if the Scouts ride momentum off their five-game winning streak or have their legs be affected by the quick turnaround. Traditionally the South is the weakest of the divisions at the State Tournament and Bridger will look to end that way of thinking when they take on Manhattan Christian who is becoming a mainstay out of the Western C.

First Game: 6:30PM v. 2W Manhattan Christian

Plenty Coups

Plenty Coups (14-8) enters the State Tournament fresh off a challenge game win over Melstone Monday night. The Warriors have the fewest wins of anyone in the field but coming off a challenge game in they will have momentum as they gear up for Arlee. What a ballgame to tipoff the State Tournament for Buddy Windyboy’s team as they take on Class C favorite Arlee in what should be a dandy of a ballgame.

First Game: 12:30PM v. 1W Arlee

Eastern C

Scobey

The Scobey Spartans (20-1) are riding an 18-game winning streak into Brick Breeden. The Spartans won State in 2011 and defeated Frazer in the Eastern C Championship two weeks ago. What the Spartans lack in size they might just make up for in shooting. Scobey is finally hitting their stride when it comes to team health as well so watch out for the Spartans who drew a tough matchup with Box Elder to kick things off. To all the Spartan faithful I’m friends with I wish you all the luck, the Spartans might need it to get past the defending State Champs Thursday night.

First Game: 8PM v. 2N Box Elder

Fairview

The Fairview Warriors (18-6) defeated Frazer 67-61 in a challenge game at the Eastern C Divisional. Fairview had a runner-up finish in 2015 to the Belt Huskies. If there is one thing we can bank on with Eastern C teams is that these boys can shoot the rock. The matchup with Hays-Lodgepole is going to require the Fairview Warriors to play with poise against the Thunderbird defensive pressure. If Fairview can make contested shots look for a back and forth ballgame between them and Hays-Lodgepole.

First Game: 2PM v. Hays-Lodgepole

Western C

Arlee

The Arlee Warriors (22-1) are the favorite this weekend in Bozeman. Zanen Pitts team features some real talent in guard Phllip Malatare who impressed a number of folks at last year’s State Tournament. Malatare scored a game-high 26 in the Warrior win over Manhattan Christian in the Western C Chipper. Tyler Tanner is also a huge contributor for the Warriors who lost to Box Elder last spring in the State Championship. Arlee is a high-flying, fast paced, razzle dazzle kind of team that is surely going to put some butts in the seats at Brick Breeden.

First Game: 12:30PM v. 2S Plenty Coups

Manhattan Christian

Manhattan Christian (21-4) is becoming quite comfortable playing in the State Tournament under Coach Jeff Bellach. The Eagles lost to Arlee in the Western C Championship 85-67, but defeated Ennis in a barn burner of a challenge game in Butte two weeks ago, 59-57. The Eagles feature a couple of horses on the inside they like to feed the ball into which opens up outside shooting for their guards Joey Lodine and Caleb Bellach. James Ramirez has been a consistent contributor for Bellach on the inside and recorded a monster 21 point 13 rebound performance against Arlee in the Western C finale. Manhattan Christian has a great chance to take home some hardware from this State Tournament being on the opposite side of Arlee and Hays-Lodgepole.

First Game: 6:30PM v. 1S Bridger

Sean Ryan is a graduate from Montana Tech and broadcasts Class C tournament basketball games for KINX 102.7 FM in Great Falls.

Where Champions Are Made

What does it take to be a champion?

John Wooden, the “Wizard of Westwood”, who won ten national championships at UCLA including a record seven in a row created a pyramid of success to explain all the pieces that go into being competitively great when you “perform at your best when your best is required”. Wooden included building blocks for success not only on the court but in life as well.

The Wooden Pyramid of Success is one of many different publications on what it takes to be a champion. There are books by professors, coaches, psychologists, and self-help gurus that occupy countless shelves at Barnes and Noble Bookstores across the country.

During this past weekend at the State C Girls Basketball Tournament, you know the one where Belt won their fifth championship in six years, I began to think about what makes a team of girls from Belt the best in the State year after year.

It isn’t just the long hours the athletes put in every month of the year, or the supreme athleticism of some people on the squad, or great coaching which a team like Belt has an abundance of.

What makes champions are the extra miles that families, friends, coaches, and a community are willing to go.

Champions are made by the long drives parents make to take a group of fourth and fifth graders to AAU tournaments in the off-season. They are made by an assistant coach who buys a girl new shoes when her family can’t afford them. The bus driver who along with driving the athletes around the state keeps the scoring book religiously for every game as well.

Champions are made by community investment that starts when the knobby-kneed girls first start to practice together after school, they are made when a sizable group of community members turn out to cheer on a team that doesn’t score more than 20 points in a game when the basket seems almost out of everyone’s range, and they are made by the groups of older kids who inspire the younger members at games and then are willing to work camps on Saturday mornings.

Belt’s players wore shirts during the tournament that read, “Tradition Never Graduates.” In the case of the 8C power Belt Lady Huskies this phrasing rings true when you watch them play. Led by three seniors in Sara Anderson, Kassie Hoyer, and Kerstyn Pimperton the Huskies won the State Championship by 29 points over Arlee. But it was the plays made throughout the tournament by the underclassmen that mattered most.

It was the basket by Adielle Meissner, a steal by Shelby Paulsen, or the last basket of the State Championship made by Kolby Pimperton that got the Belt faithful going. As one group of three players walked off in their last games as high schoolers another group was there to take the reins. Champions were made by the ovation the crowd gave each player as they entered and exited the game.

In all reality, basketball is just a game. But the way a community rallies around their teams makes it so much more than that. From the elderly couple that travels a couple hundred miles to cheer on kids they’ve known since they were in diapers to the pep band that rocks away during the warm ups and halftime at tournament basketball in Class C towns is the extra intangible that makes 32 minutes of playing more than just a game.

As I sipped a refreshment with the Belt fans after their State Championship in Belgrade I listened and laughed at story after story of their girls. Mothers were handing out hugs and embracing the moment after they watched dreams come true for their daughters. Fathers were smiling as they tried to keep from choking up at the realization that their daughters were growing up faster than they anticipated. Older siblings talked about the glory days that didn’t seem so far away until they realized it had been years since they played in the biggest of games.

It was Americana, it was a painting you’d see by Norman Rockwell, it was what makes it all worthwhile.

It was smiles, laughs, hugs, and pictures that someday the young ladies of Belt High will stumble across. Years from now they will end up sitting cross legged looking through shoe boxes of old picture buttons, maroon and gold beads, and cutouts of their faces mounted on Popsicle sticks.

That’s when the phone will ring and Mom or Dad will answer and they will be transported back in time to the long drives across Montana with a minivan full of knobby-kneed basketball players.

Back to where champions were made.

Sean Ryan broadcasts Class C tournament basketball games for KINX 102.7 FM in Great Falls. 

United at the Northern C

It is a moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

It isn’t often you see a crowd cheer for officials in unison. Usually it’s a 50/50 reaction to anything that an official is involved in once they step on the court.

But Saturday night at the Four Seasons Arena was different.

With the comments on a possible separate tournament for Native American basketball teams of a Billings Radio personality fresh on everyone’s minds the Northern C Tournament the setup couldn’t have been more perfect.

It was Saturday night late in February at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls and the Heart Butte Warriors had just battled a very tough Belt squad and won the Consolation game of the Northern C Tournament. Heart Butte is a Native American team.

The crowd on hand for the last session of the tournament had been there for hours, in fact they had been stationed shoulder to shoulder in the lobby of the Four Seasons Arena an hour and a half before the tipoff of the Consolation game waiting to get in.

Fans of Heart Butte, Belt, Box Elder and Hays-Lodgepole all jostled their way into the building to try and find a good seat for the long night of basketball ahead. It was a madhouse in the all the best ways. The Dippin’ Dots line extended halfway to Kmart and anyone in the line would tell you it felt even longer than that, the sports writers for every major newspaper in the area loudly banged away on their laptops as they tried to stick to their deadlines, and the cameramen scouted out the locations to best shoot hi-lights for the late news.

Then the music started.

The drumbeats of rich Native American culture echoed through the PA system and moments later the teams hit the floor. The cheers of fans from every acre of Northcentral Montana and even further rose to their feet as Box Elder and Hays-Lodgepole began their warmups for the Northern C Championship game. The screams and cheers of fans filled the ears of everyone in attendance.

Box Elder is a Native American team. Hays-Lodgepole is a Native American team.

But this wasn’t the loudest cheer of the night. That came moments later.

As the Bears and Thunderbirds prepared for their fourth meeting of the season and first since the 9C District Championship a week before another surprise was in store for the basketball fans in the Four Seasons Arena.

With about 14 minutes on the warmup clock, I got goosebumps.

Pat Armstrong Jr., Alvin Yellow Owl III, and Terry Brockie walked out from the officials’ locker room in a line and stepped on the floor for the Northern C Boys Divisional Championship. Donned in their black and white stripes and with the bright lights of the Four Seasons Arena on their shoulders the three men marched to half court.

The arena erupted.

Pat Armstrong Jr. is Native American. Alvin Yellow Owl III is Native American. Terry Brockie is Native American.

Armstrong Jr., Yellow Owl III, and Brockie were a Native American officiating team.

That was when the goosebumps worked their way up my arms and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

Amid all the noise and chaos that comes with the preparation for a Divisional Championship game there was more noise coming into this Northern C Divisional tournament partly because of the article written by KCTR’s Paul Mushaben on Tuesday morning.

On Wednesday evening the noise quieted down as players and coaches from Belt, Box Elder, Heart Butte, and Power all locked arms in between their first-round games. It was a show of solidarity by members of teams from non-Native American and Native American communities organized by Box Elder head coach Jeremy MacDonald.

“What we want to do from a Northern C perspective is to show we’ve got Indian teams, we’ve got non-Indian teams, and we’re going to be good sports and we’re going to be together,” said Box Elder boys’ basketball coach Jeremy MacDonald. “And at the end of the day we’re going to shake hands and tell each other, ‘Great game.'”

The pre-game ceremony was intended to generate a “bigger discussion and we start to bring people together instead of making this divide between each other.”

That it did.

The show of solidarity in the Northern C spread across social media like wildfire. Photos of players locked arm in arm at center court of the Four Seasons were tweeted, posted, shared, and viewed all over the globe.

The Bears, Huskies, Pirates, and Warriors made a statement everyone could get behind. And the standing ovation by the large crowd in attendance proved that everyone belongs at the Northern C.

That was the first time I got goosebumps at the Northern C Tournament.

The moments before Box Elder and Hays-Lodgepole’s Championship game Saturday made sure it wasn’t the last.

All tournament long the Native American teams and non-Native American teams played great basketball. There were close contests, an overtime, and more three pointers than you can shake a stick at.

But one of the things that caught my eye, besides Trey Henderson’s dunk in the first minutes of the Championship game that delighted the crowd, was the sportsmanship that every athlete displayed. When players got knocked to the floor it was usually players wearing a different jersey color that were the first to offer a hand to pick the other up.

This was all tournament long.

One of the things I’ve learned at the Northern C is that you can’t beat the basketball. Or the people.

You can’t beat the environment that is created when teams from communities across the area come to the Four Seasons to watch young men and women play basketball with pride.

Pride is something powerful. Playing for your community, your family, your teammates, and yourself is something that can empower and pride was on display during the tournament runs by Box Elder and Hays-Lodgepole.

During Box Elder’s win over Heart Butte in the nightcap of Wednesday’s Northern C Tournament I saw Box Elder’s Tanner Parisian show his pride through his actions.

The 5’8” Parisian carved his way through the Heart Butte defense and tallied 20 points in Box Elder’s 75-51 victory. Before the final horn sounded coach Jeremy MacDonald subbed Parisian out to a nice ovation from the Box Elder faithful.

He ran off the floor and high-fived his teammates, the managers and his coaches. Then he walked behind the Box Elder bench and picked up the discarded Dixie Cups that had found their way underneath the chairs throughout the long day.

That’s pride.

That’s what Paul Mushaben didn’t see. But I did. A lot of people did. And they have for as long as Coach Jeremy MacDonald has been bringing his Bears team to the Northern C Divisional.

MacDonald has created a culture at Box Elder that I would put up against anyone else in the country. During last year’s Northern C Divisional Tournament when Box Elder was on their way to a second Class C State Championship in three years the coach held himself accountable for actions he didn’t believe were up to snuff.

So, MacDonald suspended himself for Box Elder’s first game of the Divisional. In life, it’s much easier to talk-the-talk but MacDonald and the Bears continually walk-the-walk.

And walking-the-walk is always more impressive.

And walk they did, in front of a capacity crowd at the Four Seasons, to half court. Both Bears and Thunderbirds, as managers, players, coaches, and officials were announced per tradition in the pregame of the Championship.

As the game was played and three pointers were made the crowd erupted in applause again and again. Timeouts were desperately needed for fans, officials, players, and radio broadcasters to catch their breath.

Before the timeouts ended in the instant Northern C classic heavyweight bout, I kept fading back from the moment. Removing myself what I was doing and thinking, “How lucky am I to be here right now?”

“How could you not love this game? This environment?”

I don’t think I was the only one thinking that as Box Elder and Hays-Lodgepole were all tied up at 61-61 with a minute left to play.

Minutes later the final horn sounded at the Four Seasons Arena and the Hays-Lodgepole Thunderbirds were the Champions of the Northern C after defeating Box Elder 65-61 and it was their turn to be proud.

The Thunderbirds, complete with the dyed hair that late great legend A.J. Long Soldier sported during the Thunderbird State Championship run in 2007, proudly raised their Northern C Divisional trophy above their head as hugs abounded between coaches, players, and families.

That pride is what makes us all the same. To raise a trophy is to raise a community to the highest of heights. Basketball unites us. Like standing arm in arm with one another at center court was a statement of solidarity.

Here in Montana we are all one when it comes to the game of basketball.

That was proven when the capacity crowd at the Four Seasons Arena cheered for the guys wearing black and white stripes before the Northern C Championship game.

I just wish everyone in Montana could’ve seen that and gotten the same goosebumps I did.

For that was a game I’ll never forget.

 

Sean Ryan broadcasts Class C tournament basketball games for KINX 102.7 FM in Great Falls and will be calling the games for Belt and Roy/Winifred in Belgrade this weekend at the Class C Girls State Tournament. 

2017 State C Girls Tournament Preview

State C Girls Preview

Bracket

Northern C

Belt

The Belt Huskies (23-1) have to be the favorite in this year’s Class C State Tournament. The Huskies won their seventh, I repeat seventh, consecutive Northern C Divisional Championship over Roy/Winifred last weekend in Great Falls 47-29. The powerhouse team led by a man never lacking energy in Jeff Graham will be a force to be reckoned with as they arrive undefeated against Class C opponents to the Class C State Tournament with their only loss coming to Class B power Malta early in the year. The Huskies are led by Dani Urick who tallied a game-high 17 points in the Northern C Championship as well as recent UGF commit Kerstyn Pimperton and Sara Anderson. Also in the starting lineup are bigs Kassie Hoyer and Adrian Malek who both help the Huskies on the defensive end and in the rebounding battle against taller teams. Belt is looking for their fifth title in six years in Belgrade this weekend where they won their second in a row back in 2013 when they defeated Winnett-Grass Range 40-34. The Huskies start their tournament at 2PM against Froid/Medicine Lake the 2-seed out of the East.

Roy/Winifred

Roy/Winifred enters the 2017 Class C State Tournament with an impressive 19-5 record especially when you factor in their formidable 8C Conference that featured Belt, Centerville, and Winnett-Grass Range as well as other really impressive teams. In fact, the 8C saw its teams (Belt, Roy/Winfred, and Winnett-Grass Range) go 8-2 at the Northern C Divisional and had three of the four teams playing on semifinal night. This reminds me of a funny story about Terry Bakken’s State Championship Runner-up Antelope boys team that finished with six losses in 1975, all of them coming against eventual State Champion Westby. The Outlaws are led by Lorianne Stulc who seems to do it all for her team. The size and 3-2 zone that Roy/Winifred plays so well with their length will make it very difficult on teams who rely on guard play to get them going. Co-head coaches Mauri Elness and Marietta Boyce will have their girls ready to play and if they play well enough they might match back up with Belt on Saturday night. The Outlaws begin their State Tournament with Savage, the 1-seed out of the East, in the nightcap of Thursday’s action.

Southern C

Harlowton

Harlowton (22-2) enters the Class C State Tournament riding a nine-game win streak. The Engineers won the Southern C Divisional and are headed back to the big stage for the first time since 2014. Led by head coach Greg Wasson, Harlowton defeated Broadview-Lavina 30-28. Harlowton was led in the Southern C title game by Mariah Dietrich who tallied a game-high 11 points including important buckets down the stretch. Watch for Harlowton to try and make some noise at this year’s tournament starting with their matchup against Western C 2-seed Arlee.

Broadview-Lavina

Broadview-Lavina is making their third straight trip to the State Tournament despite losing in the Southern C Divisional Championship to Harlowton 30-28. Led by head coach Jenny Auer the Pirates rely on the offense of Krista Schott and Chloe Hanser. The Pirates shot just 18 percent in the second half of the loss to Harlowton. Broadview-Lavina takes on perennial Western C power Twin Bridges in the State Tournament opener at 12:30 P.M. Thursday.

Eastern C

Savage

The Savage Warriors (20-4) are making their first appearance at the State Tournament in school history, which is quite a feat. The new kids on the block (an unfortunate Marky-Mark reference I apologize for) defeated Froid/Medicine Lake 41-39 in a tightly contested Eastern C Championship. Soda rice led the way for Savage with 10 points and seven boards in the contest. The Warriors, led by head coach Darcy Kessel, will start with a tough matchup against powerful Roy/Winifred at 8 P.M. in the last game on Thursday night.

Froid/Medicine Lake

Froid/Medicine Lake reenters the State C Tournament with a 22-3 record with those three loses coming by a combined 10 points. The Redhawks had to play a challenge game against Scobey-Opheim which they dominated the Spartans 40-18 last weekend. Morgan Mason and Makenzie Dethman combined to score 19 points and control the boards for the Redhawks. Froid/Medicine Lake starts the State Tourney with the dangerous Belt Huskies at 2 P.M. on Thursday.

Western C

Twin Bridges

Twin Bridges (24-0) brings an undefeated record to the State Tournament and are led by new head coach Josh Keller who takes over for longtime sideline presence Rob Lott. Keller, the son of Montana Western head coach Steve, has the Falcons playing well. The imposing Kailee Oliverson who is 6’3” and RaeAnne Bendon who plays the important guard spot for the Falcons are the two top players for their squad. Twin Bridges opens their tournament with Broadview-Lavina at 12:30 Thursday afternoon. Looking ahead Twin is on the same side of the bracket as the favorite Belt Huskies.

Arlee

The Arlee Warriors (18-5) had a 14-game win streak snapped in their 43-39 loss to Twin Bridges in the Western C Championship. Alyssia Vanderburg leads the Warriors on offense and defense. The Warriors utilize their size and look to be a difficult matchup against teams in the State Tournament. Arlee also has experience on their side from playing in the Class C State Tournament in Great Falls last year. The Warriors take on the Southern C 2-seed Harlowton Engineers at 6:30 P.M on Thursday night.

 

Sean Ryan  broadcasts Class C tournament basketball games for KINX 102.7 FM in Great Falls and will be calling the games for Belt and Roy/Winifred in Belgrade this weekend. Follow him on Twitter  @Mr_SeanRyan for score updates and more stories. 

Chinook’s “Hi-Line Magic”

Have you ever heard of a little thing called “Hi-Line Magic”?

Coach Mike Seymour pulled the proverbial rabbit out of his hat on Thursday morning when the Chinook Sugarbeeters defeated 10C District Champion Sunburst in overtime, 39-38. Trailing by four points, 36-32 with just under two minutes left to play in regulation the team from Chinook clawed their way back and forced an overtime with the Refiners.

They didn’t force an overtime with magic, but with grit, determination, and a heavy dose of lengthy bigs. Trailing by four Chinook’s Cord Schneider scored on a move from the block and the Beeters found themselves down just two, 36-34 with 1:10 left.

After an empty Sunburst possession, the Beeters tied it up at 36-all when Isaac Bell split the two-guard defense of the Refiners and hit a layup in the lane and 19 seconds on the clock. For an 11 AM game in the Four Seasons it was a dandy.

In the overtime the Sugarbeeters capitalized on Sunburst turnovers and Cord Schneider stole the ball away at half court with just four seconds on the clock.

With time winding down, Schneider was off in a race against time. Fans across the gym darted their eyes from the scoreboard to Schneider and from Schneider to the scoreboard. Right before the horn was set to blow Schneider was fouled and earned the 1-and-1 opportunity at the free throw line.

There wasn’t a seat in the place that had anyone sitting back comfortably as Schneider went to the line. Stepping to the stripe, Schneider’s attempt barely crept over the front of the iron before rattling around and to give Chinook the 39-38 lead.

As his second attempt missed and the Sugarbeeters secured the rebound the horn finally sounded and the “Hi-Line Magic” was complete for Coach Mike Seymour and company.

And why shouldn’t Chinook be the beneficiary of “Hi-Line Magic” here at the Northern C Tournament.

With a darn tough draw entering the Four Seasons Arena the Beeters had to face the No. 3 seed out of the 8C DGS, who entered their District Tournament second in the conference last weekend, in the play-in game Wednesday night.

I’m not sure the defensive strategy was to let Rhet Woodhall score a tournament-high 32 points in the opening game of the Boys Northern C but it worked out. With great play by his slew of underclassman who play like they’ve got all the experience in the world when it’s called for the Beeters bested the Bearcats 63-58.

I saw these Beeter boys play last January up in Fort Benton calling a game for KRYK radio in Chinook. My thoughts on the Chinook youth was something like, “Man these kids are going to be really good in one or two years.”

Well I guess my timeline was off.

The Sugarbeeters are good now. With size at 6-6, 6-4, and 6-4 in the post and the benefit of youth being on their side these Chinook kids are a delight to watch. With rim protecting bigs who can swat away shots in the lane and guards who know how to keep control of the game when chaos surrounds them.

Chinook is proof that maturity isn’t inherently dependent on age. Sometimes the young buck can make a play that makes a crafty veteran envious and that was what a team chock full of sophomores did time and time again in the Four Seasons Arena.

So maybe it isn’t magic. Maybe it’s good coaching.

But to be the kind of team to win a play-in game against DGS where you are the underdog Wednesday night and to turn around and knock off a No. 1 seed out of the 10C Thursday morning isn’t an everyday occurrence.

So, next time you bump into Coach Mike Seymour go ahead and check his sleeves.

There might just be a few aces up them.

Sean Ryan broadcasts Class C tournament basketball games for KINX 102.7 FM in Great Falls.

Central Girls Have Turned Things Around

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.

My Northern C Preview

The Northern C Divisional never disappoints and I know I’m not the only person looking forward to settling in to watch what will be 28 total games of Class C action.

Remember to tune in to KINX 102.7 in the Great Falls listening area to hear the Star Radio broadcast team bring you all the games. Games can also be heard online at https://network1sports.com/station/kinx.

So here is my preview of the teams participating in the Northern C Divisional:

Girls

Belt is the cream of the crop until proven otherwise. The Lady Huskies are led by dynamic players like Kerstyn Pimperton, Dani Urick, and Sara Anderson to name a few. The depth of the Huskies became very apparent when they threw line changes out in the 8C Championship against Roy/Winifred and didn’t miss a beat. The Huskies open up with 10C Cascade Wednesday 9:30 PM.

Roy/Winifred is something to be reckoned with coming in as the No. 2 seed from the 8C. The Outlaws are coached by two of the most entertaining coaches to watch in co-head coaches Marietta Boyce and Mauri Elness. The Outlaws play tough physical defense that limits teams from penetrating their 1-2-2 zone. Watch out for the Outlaws when they take on Fort Benton Wednesday at 12:30 PM.

Winnett-Grass Range is always ready to play and with an 8 AM game to start the Northern C Tournament they had better be. The Rams played neck and neck with Roy/Winifred in their semifinal matchup in Lewistown and beat a tough Centerville team twice in three days. The Rams make tough shots and get better when they go to the bench to bring in Taylor Stahl as their sixth-man. I love the energy the Rams play with and think they will match up quite well with North Star early Wednesday morning. The winner of that game goes on the play 10C power Great Falls Central.

Box Elder has proven year after year that they are a tough team when it comes to tournament time. As the number one team in the 9C Box Elder has been riding high all year thanks to their up-tempo style of play and ability to shoot from downtown. The Bears dominated in the 9C Chipper against Fort Benton and will have plenty of confidence as they return to the Four Seasons Arena. The Bears play 8C No. 3 seed Simms at 11 AM on Wednesday.

Fort Benton enters the Northern C Divisional with a tough matchup against Roy/Winifred at 12:30 PM. The Longhorns are coming to the Four Seasons with an opportunity to prove the 9C isn’t a one team conference. The Longhorns have proven solid but their matchup with the Outlaws will be a big indicator to the strength of the 9C compared to the 8C.

North Star had to fight their way back after losing to Fort Benton in a Thursday night semifinal. The Knights are going to have a tough one to start off with a strong and physical WGR team. Also, playing at 8AM is never an easy task. The Four Seasons will be very empty to start the day off and I think the Knights must defend the Rams high-low attack well to have a chance.

Great Falls Central hasn’t been tested all year. Let’s get that elephant in the room out of the way early. Led by Bryn Anderson and Kenadee Depner the Mustangs have experience at the Northern C in recent years. However, the Mustangs are a defensive juggernaut with their press and half-court trap. If Anderson gets out in transition and Depner can clear the boards for the Mustangs look for them to make a run. They play the winner of WGR and North Star Wednesday at 4 PM

The Simms Tigers are a team that brings a good bit of energy with them to the floor every time they take it. The Tigers utilized a 1-3-1 in one of the games I saw in the 10C and their length with the Willekes sisters really makes them a force. Simms is going to need to shoot the ball well from outside to have a chance against Box Elder in the 11 AM game Wednesday.

Cascade had to fight their way back through consolation action at the 10C to earn their trip to Divisionals. Led by Gary Lucero the Badgers rebound well from the guard spots and aren’t afraid to shoot from outside. With Oliver on the inside the Badgers can bother a lot of shots and force teams to chuck it up from outside on the defensive end. I don’t think the Badgers could have a tougher draw facing defending State Champ Belt in the 9:30 AM game Wednesday.

Boys

The Belt boys are talented and very well coached. They make all the simple plays and have some great talent to push them over the top. Jess Bodner can score on anybody and Keegan Stroop and Harry Green make the Huskies very fast in transition. The bruising Jaren Maki makes Belt a complete team with his hustle plays and nose for the ball. Look for the Huskies to take control early when they take on Power at 7 PM on Wednesday night.

Centerville punched their ticket to the Northern C Divisional with a big win over DGS in the late semifinal in Lewistown. Led by Kade Landon, Carson McGinness, and Briggs Judd the Miners are athletic and could compete with teams in the tournament. Defensively I like how hard and in your face the Miners play but offensively they have to clean things up to be successful in the Four Seasons. Centerville takes on 9C No. 2 Hays-Lodgepole Thursday at 9:30 AM.

DGS hasn’t played well lately. Stumbling late in their loss to Centerville in the semifinal round of the 8C tournament was a tough break but the Bearcats rebounded. Rhet Woodhall can score with the best of them and he has proven himself to be option numero uno for DGS. Sean Bronec on the inside also presents a tough matchup for teams who have to step over to stop the driving Woodhall. I like DGS and their chances as they open things up Wednesday against 9C No. 3 seed Chinook at 5:30 PM.

Box Elder claimed their fifth 9C Championship in a row with an upset of Hays-Lodgepole. The Bears are always a fun team to watch at tournament time and I expect nothing less than that as they return to the Four Seasons. Led by Jeremy MacDonald, the Bears are a well-coached team that can really score the basketball and force turnovers. It should be a heck of a ballgame as the Bears open up with Heart Butte in Wednesday night’s final showdown at 8:30 PM.

Hays-Lodgepole was a bit shell-shocked by Box Elder in the 9C Chipper and hopefully the hangover from that loss doesn’t stick with the Thunderbirds too long. Led by Tyson Shambo who can shoot the ball from anywhere in the gym the Thunderbirds can score with the best of them. If their press is as effective as years past watch out for Hays-Lodgepole. The Thunderbirds take on Centerville at 9:30 AM Thursday morning.

Chinook was able to advance out of the 9C and earn the No. 3 spot coming out of Havre. The Sugarbeeters are going to have a tough test ahead of them when they take on DGS. Lanky youth in years past is turning into a strong inside game currently for the Sugarbeeters who come to the Northern C ready to make some noise. I like the foundation Chinook has and the Sugarbeeters are always set to have a little hi-line magic come their way in the Four Seasons. Chinook takes on 8C No. 3 DGS at 5:30 PM Wednesday.

Sunburst is really fun to watch. They play hard, fast, and in your face for the full 32 minutes. Led by Pickering on the inside the Refiners can work the ball inside out with the best of them and have the shooters on the arc to make teams pay for doubling down inside. Pickering has the ability to be the best player in the Northern C Divisional as only a junior. Sunburst will play the winner of the Chinook DGS game on Thursday at 11 AM.

Heart Butte is going to be involved in one of the most anticipated games of the whole tournament when they take on Box Elder at 8:30 PM Wednesday. Heart Butte hung close with Sunburst for the first 16 minutes before fading. Watch out for the Warriors as anything can happen when two high powered teams face off in a late game at the Four Seasons. This one is going to be fun to watch.

Power was able to work their way back through the 10C District Tournament after a poor performance resulted in a loss to Valier. With crafty Griff Bye coaching these Pirates anything can happen. Power is strong defensively and I like the way their top of the key dribble-drive handoff offense forces opposing defenses into tough switching situations. If the Pirates can shoot it well they could be really fun to watch on the big court. Power plays Belt at 7 PM on Wednesday. I can’t wait to see what kind of Hawaiian shirt Griff has picked out for that one.

Vic

The Northern C Divisional Tournament tips off this Wednesday at 8AM in the Four Seasons Arena. An 8AM start is an early beginning to a long few days of exciting basketball but it won’t feel like an early start for Winnett-Grass Range Head Coach Vic Westphal.

Mornings for the rancher begin around 4:30 AM when the white haired Westphal rises and braves the cold of the morning air to check on his cattle. With the hired hands checking the calves throughout the night Vic takes over before the sun has even crept its way over the Snowy Mountains.

The early mornings on the ranch make for long days for Westphal but that makes the long days in the gym at tournament time seem normal.

For Vic, who’s Lady Rams take on North Star in the opening game of the Northern C Divisional Tournament the fight to survive the District 8C Tournament in Lewistown was like another day on the ranch, except Vic did a lot more pacing in the Fergus High Fieldhouse. On the sideline, Westphal dressed in his customary black jeans, brown shoes, and a button up off-white shirt, wore the hardwood thin walking back-and-forth in front of his WGR bench.

Westphal saw his team shoot just below thirty percent from the floor in their Saturday morning loser-out game against Denton-Geyser-Stanford and hang on for a 10-point win.

The always honest Westphal joked, “That might be the ugliest game we’ve played all year. If I didn’t have to stay in the coaching box I might’ve been half tempted to make a run for the door”.

Well he didn’t make a run for the door, in fact he stayed in the Fergus High Fieldhouse all day long. Sitting up in the wings of the gymnasium he watched games, visited with people, and enjoyed the company of his grandkids.

Then he coached the WGR girls into the Northern C Divisional with a hard-fought win over a talented Centerville squad in the consolation game on Saturday afternoon. Smiles abounded on the faces of his players and Westphal himself was trying not to let his excitement show too much in the hospitality room postgame as he sat to grab a bite to eat.

Elated with the way his girls played in their second tournament win over the Miners in three days he was congratulated by Belt Head Coach Jeff Graham. Graham, with son Jace in toe, pulled up a seat next to Westphal and set young Jace’s plastic dinosaur toys down on the table.

“Wow, would you look at those dinosaurs? Those are great!” said Westphal to the youngest Graham. “I wish I had dinosaurs like that.”

As Graham visited with folks around the hospitality room Westphal and Jace talked about Vic’s “baby cows” and the smile on both their faces was contagious around the room. Westphal, known for his stern and often fiery sideline demeanor had made a new friend. That’s just the kind of guy he is.

In the days before the Northern C redistricted Westphal’s Winnett-Grass Range teams were a staple at the Divisional Tournament representing the late great 7C. Westphal’s teams quite often matched up with Graham’s Lady Huskies on the biggest of stages in the Four Seasons Arena. In fact, Graham’s Huskies and Westphal’s Rams even faced off against each other for the Class C State Championship in Belgrade in 2013 where the Huskies won their second straight title, 40-34.

When asked about Westphal, Graham’s admiration for the rancher/coach is crystal clear.

“Vic is what Class C basketball is all about, raising kids to be better people. He loves our small communities just as much as Griff Bye or anyone can.” remarked Graham. “He treats my kids like his own, taking care of my son while I’m watching our Belt boys play. He coaches because he loves it.”

Year after year it was the Huskies and the Rams representing the Northern C at State. So something that the two coaches are doing must be working. While Graham’s style of coaching presents as much of a show as the basketball game, Westphal’s approach is slightly different to the observer.

On the sideline, the broad shouldered Westphal will stand with his arms crossed and take in the action stoically observing each play. Then in an instant the ball will be turned over or one of his players will commit a bad foul and you can bet the farm that his players will be hearing about it all during the next timeout.

“If you didn’t know Vic he would seem like this big gruff guy. That’s what I though before I ever played for him.” said 2014 Winnett grad Pari Iverson. “He seemed so scary and but on the inside, he’s a real jokester and a true teddy bear.”

More grizzly than teddy bear on the sideline Westphal has built a winning culture in tough central Montana that saw the Rams place at the State C Tournament three straight years.

“If you watched our games he was definitely tough on us, but that was why we were successful. He was the best coach I could have ever asked for.” added Iverson.

Westphal’s Lady Rams team impressed a crowd of people in the Fergus High Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon during their win over Centerville to punch their ticket to the Northern C.

So I say look out for the 8C District at the Four Seasons Arena. The loaded 8C will leave some teams home that could have won ballgames at the Divisional, but that’s the nature of the beast. Belt, Roy/Winifred, and Winnett-Grass Range will be forces throughout the tournament because they had to survive the competition of the 8C.

When Wednesday’s action starts early with Winnett-Grass Range versus North Star at 8 AM. Some fans will undoubtedly be wiping the sleep out of their eyes and needing their second cup of coffee before they can really get into the action.

But Westphal won’t. He’ll be up with the sun and ready to coach his girls as best he can. Expecting the best, pacing up and down the four seasons floor with his arms crossed, and getting fired up for every call he doesn’t like.

And when the game is over you might be able to find him in the hospitality room sitting with his friend Jace Graham talking dinosaurs. It beats the heck out of checking calves at five in the morning.