It’s that time of year again – time for me to make my championship predictions for the upcoming basketball seasons.
I’m doing it a little bit differently this go-around, actually posting my predictions before the season really gets going. Usually, I give myself a full weekend of basketball games to make some early observations.
But not this time. We’re rolling this list out before most teams have played a game.
High school girls basketball in Montana has been in pretty good shape the past few years, sending numerous athletes to play college basketball. This year is no different, as the likes of Alycia Sims, Rachel Koehler, Diondra Denton, Alisha Breen, and Courtney Henry among others have already agreed to play college basketball.
Team-wise, some of the usual suspects will likely be in the mix come February and March, but there are also some not-so-familiar teams that are garnering preseason attention.
The 2011-12 state champions – Missoula Sentinel, Billings Central, Fairfield, and Belt – all return talented teams for the 2012-13 campaign. Will any of those teams repeat as state champions?
Missoula Sentinel edged Bozeman in overtime in the State AA championship last season, and the Spartans should have another solid team this year. DJ Reinhardt graduated in the spring, but three starters return, including all-state forward Olivia Roberts.
Sentinel’s biggest challengers in the Western AA figure to be Kalispell Glacier and potentially Helena Capital.
In the Eastern AA, Billings Senior is the team on everybody’s minds. The Broncs finished in fourth place at the state tournament last year and have a good core of girls back this season. Rachel Koehler, who committed to play college basketball at Cal Poly, leads the way for a Broncs team that has size and athleticism.
Beyond the Broncs, Bozeman and Great Falls CMR figure to contend for the conference’s top seed at the state tournament. Both teams have future college players (Amy Davis at Bozeman and Diondra Denton at CMR) on their rosters.
State tournament teams:
Eastern AA - Billings Senior, Bozeman, Great Falls CMR, Butte
Western AA - Missoula Sentinel, Kalispell Glacier, Helena Capital, Missoula Big Sky
Championship prediction: Missoula Sentinel 45, Billings Senior 42
Billings Central won the State A championship last year with a pair of seniors – Katie Cummins and Kayla Lucas – sharing tournament most valuable player honors. While losing those two will hurt the team, the Rams still have a good team in the mix for the 2012-13 season.
Justyn Juhl, Sammy Elliott, Allie Lucas, and Hadley Ryan give coach Jeff Malby an experienced, talented group to build around, making Central the preseason favorite in the Eastern A.
The rest of the conference is wide open. The coaches picked Hardin to finish second in the league, but Laurel, Glendive, and Sidney could challenge, too.
In the Central A, it looks like it’s Belgrade’s conference to lose. The Panthers took third place at last year’s state tournament, and all-state player Dylan Fowler is back this season.
The Southwestern A might be the toughest conference top to bottom again. Stevensville – with Alycia Sims – and Butte Central are picked as the top two teams, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any of the other four teams contend for a state tournament berth. Hamilton is loaded with talented sophomores, while Courtney Moodry (Anaconda), Lakyn Connors (Corvallis), and Audrey Schurg (Dillon) give their teams good building blocks.
It looks like a two-team race in the Northwestern A, with Columbia Falls and Frenchtown as the preseason favorites. Polson could make some noise, but Libby and Whitefish are probably a year or two away.
State tournament teams:
Eastern A - Billings Central, Hardin
Central A - Belgrade, Havre
Southwestern A - Stevensville, Butte Central
Northwestern A - Columbia Falls, Frenchtown
Championship prediction: Billings Central 46, Butte Central 36
This might be the first year in a while that Fairfield and Malta aren’t the prohibitive favorites. Those two teams will still vie for the state title, but Townsend has definitely closed the gap.
The Bulldogs took third place at the State B tournament last year after losing to Fairfield in the semifinal round. The difference is that while the Eagles lost all-state forward Molly Klinker to graduation, Townsend returns the bulk of its team.
Fairfield coach Dustin Gordon called Townsend the “most talented team in the state” and said they have “five very good all-conference players starting for them.”
Gordon’s Eagles aren’t bad either. They’re the two-time defending state champions, have a 52-game winning streak, and have the most dominant player in Class B in 6-foot-4 junior Jill Barta.
Choteau and Malta might be able to challenge Fairfield in the Northern B, which sends three teams to the state tournament this year, but the Eagles are one of the favorites heading into the season.
From the rest of the state, Baker, Colstrip, and Shepherd are three teams to watch in the Southern B. Three teams from the division qualify for the state tournament, so two of those will likely join Townsend.
In the West, Missoula Loyola played at the state tournament last year and is typically one of the favorites. Deer Lodge will challenge Loyola for top honors in District 6B.
In District 7B, look for Thompson Falls and Eureka to have solid seasons, as well as Bigfork. The Valkyries played at the state tournament last year.
State tournament teams:
Southern B - Townsend, Colstrip, Baker
Northern B - Fairfield, Malta, Choteau
Western B - Deer Lodge, Thompson Falls
Championship prediction: Fairfield 51, Townsend 41
Class C fans have their eyes on two teams this year: Belt and Winnett-Grass Range.
The Huskies are the defending state champions and have played on Saturday night at the state tournament each of the last five seasons. They have a ton of experienced, athletic shooters back, and the team might be even deeper this year than in years past.
Winnett-Grass Range took third place last season after losing to Twin Bridges in the first round of the tournament. In their next three games the Rams won by 27, 16, and 24 points. They’re deep and have two great senior leaders in Martha Dembek and Kaylyn Delaney.
The Southern divisional tournament could be the most competitive in the class. Harlowton-Ryegate (in District 6C) and Ekalaka, St. Labre, and Wibaux (in District 4C) look like the four teams fighting for the division’s two state tournament berths.
In the East, Culbertson and Fairview are the favorites yet again. Westby-Grenora could challenge in District 2C, while District 3C appears to be up for grabs.
Twin Bridges graduated Gatorade Player of the Year Peyton Ferris, but the Falcons have another good team back this year. Coach Rob Lott had a couple younger players to build around, and they’ll play aggressive defense. Drummond is another team to watch from western Montana.
State tournament teams:
Eastern C - Culbertson, Fairview
Southern C - Harlowton-Ryegate, Ekalaka
Western C - Drummond, Twin Bridges
Northern C - Belt, Winnett-Grass Range
Championship prediction: Belt 54, Winnett-Grass Range 48