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. 


2017 State C Girls Tournament Preview

State C Girls Preview


Northern C


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 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 (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 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


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.


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.