BUTTE – Four points separated Anaconda from the Class B boys’ state basketball title last season.
Falling 54-51 to Malta, the Copperheads spent the entire offseason thinking about what could have been.
“It’s what motivated us to play all summer, get used to playing with new kids. We lost two pretty good seniors, but we’ll be fine,” Montana Western signee Trent Mikalatos said. “I really wanna win state this year and not take second. That sucked.”
Mikalatos averaged 13 points for Anaconda last season while teammate Braxton Hill put up 22.7 per game. The tandem makes up one of the most dangerous frontcourts in all of Class B.
Despite an 18-10 record last year, the Copperheads were able to win the western divisional championship for a berth in the state tournament. They’d like to do both again, especially with head coach Bill Hill retiring at the end of season.
“There’s a lot of motivation to get back there,” Braxton Hill said. “It’s been motivation to us all, in the offseason and summer. We know what we gotta do, we know why we didn’t win it last year.”
It certainly hasn’t been easy.
Anaconda was missing several players at the beginning of last season to academic issues and played with just six for a long stretch last season. Bill Hill had to change his practices to schedule around tutoring times, but his team was eventually able to be whole down the stretch.
“Once we got all our kids back and stabilized our core group, we were fine,” Bill Hill said. “Education is important and we’ve got to have accountability here.”
The Copperheads are far from the only potential state title candidate.
Malta and Missoula Loyola – a team that lost in the semifinals to the Mustangs in double overtime – could both end up being awarded the state championship trophy this season.
Malta has won four championship since 2012 and return center Taylor Matthews, now in his senior year.
The Rams bring back experience too. Jack Lincoln and Fisher Richardson were both named first-team All-conference last year as sophomores and help the loss of Parker Davis, an All-state selection.
Bigfork is another school several coaches have noted as a team to watch in Class B this season. The Vikings narrowly missed the state tournament last season, falling 62-55 to Missoula Loyola in the Western B challenge game.
There’s a vast amount of experience on a Bigfork roster that returns two first-team All-state players – junior point guard Anders Epperly and senior center Beau Santisteven.
Florence returns talent as well, led by seniors Marcus Zeiler and Brent Stroppel. The Falcons made the state tournament in 2016, but suffered a 54-41 loss to Bigfork in the Western B consolation finals.