Tradition is a wonderful thing. And the Harlowton-Ryegate Engineers are in the midst of another traditional run despite having their third coach in three seasons and playing without one of the state's career scoring leaders.
The Engineers have been at the top of every Class C basketball poll this season, and at 12-0, have probably surprised a lot of observers who thought Harlowton-Ryegate might slide a bit following the graduation of 2,030-point scorer Bailey Snelling.
But that hasn't happened. Far from it.
"These kids have watched this program for a lot of years, since third, fourth, fifth grade, whenever they started to come to these ball games," said first-year coach Gregg Wasson, Harlowton's athletic director who took over for last year's co-coaches Larry Snelling and Rob Galahan. "They're committed to the program and have that drive, because they want to be like those kids on those other teams."
There are a lot of Engineers teams to admire. They haven't dropped a regular-season district game since the 2006-07 season, and they've won five straight district tournament championships. Led by the play of Snelling and fellow senior Kendra Galahan, the Engineers placed second at state last season, which followed a third-place showing the year before.
Wasson said all five of his starters -- seniors Ashley Hooper and Mikaela Hagl, and sophomores Dusty Taber, Kinsey Schwers and Makenzie Wasson -- average between seven and nine shots a game. Hagl, Schwers and Wasson each average 10.0 points per game.
Gregg Wasson added that the bench of juniors Brooke Brandt, Malori Dietrich, Braidy Berg and Jordan Tudor and sophomore Kylie McLees have found their roles and helped solidify things for the Engineers.
"The kids have come together and we have really good balance," he said. "There's just been a lot of consistency there. I'm pleased with the group effort."
Wasson also credited the work of the previous coaches, including former longtime coach John MacCart, for the program's continued success. Wasson also said the impact of Snelling, a four-year starter who is now playing at Carroll College, is still being felt.
"You watched Bailey play, and she was one of those players who got everyone involved," said Wasson, who has been at Harlowton-Ryegate for 10 years. "That has carried over into these girls. She just left a tremendous impression on a lot of these kids, and that's great."
Take in a close game
In the mood for a nail-biter? Odds are in your favor, then, if you decide to take in a game involving one of the Billings teams.
With the season past its midpoint for most teams, Billings Senior and Billings Skyview have each played five games decided by three points or less. Billings West has played three such games and has had another go into overtime.
Billings Central, meanwhile, has played four games decided by four points or less, including two against rival Laurel.
Even Tuesday's Skyview-West game, which ended up a 51-44 victory for the Lady Falcons, was a four-point game with 1:18 to play. Of seven intra-city games played so far this season among Central, Senior, Skyview and West, the average margin of victory is 3.7 points.
"Everbody's improved, and there's quality basketball going on in Billings," West coach Randy Chase said following Tuesday's loss. "It's going to be a fun end to the season. ... It's a battle every night."
The next intra-city girls game is Saturday when Skyview visits Central at 4:45 p.m.
Hardin takes a six-game winning steak into Laurel on Thursday. A win by the Lady Bulldogs would cement their second-place standing in the Eastern A and keep them on the heels of Billings Central. ... What a few days it's been for the Colstrip Fillies. They entered last weekend as the fourth-place team in the 3B, but they came up with consecutive wins over Top-10 teams: Colstrip beat then-No. 4 Baker 43-34 on Friday and then-No. 9 Lodge Grass 64-49 on Tuesday. "We're playing together a lot better as a team," Colstrip coach Roxie Wilson said. "The girls are doing some things outside of practice, like having dinners at their house and having bonding experiences like watching game film and laughing at themselves about how they used to play and how they used to look." ... Bozeman put its stamp on Class AA's No. 1 spot when the Hawks easily defeated No. 3 Great Falls CMR 62-36 last Saturday. Senior gets the next shot at the Hawks when the Lady Broncs travel to Bozeman on Friday.