It’s never too early to start talking about next year.
For some teams, the talk of next year started before they were ready. But it can serve as a great motivating factor. The Box Elder boys basketball team was in the gym shooting the very next day after it was eliminated at the Northern C divisional tournament in 2013.
The Bears, using “unfinished business” as a team motto, went undefeated in the 2013-14 season on their way to the State C championship.
So who are some of the teams that should be excited about the possibilities the 2014-15 season presents? Here are some way-too-early championship predictions for next year:
AA boys: Missoula Hellgate
Hellgate finished second to Helena Capital at last week’s State AA tournament after winning the title a season ago. The Bruins graduate the bulk of their production, though, while the Knights return a lot of talent, including Tres Tinkle, and should enter the season as the favorites.
Teams to watch: Billings Skyview, Billings West, Missoula Sentinel
AA girls: Bozeman
Bozeman went 0-2 at the state tournament, but no team improved more from the beginning of the season to the end than coach Brad Rustan’s Hawks. They had youth and size on their side this year, so there’s a high ceiling for next season. Averie Collins is really solid.
Teams to watch: Billings Senior, Great Falls, Helena Capital
A boys: Havre
Class A should be wide open next season, but having arguably the best player in the class is a good place to start. The Blue Ponies will need more than just Dane Warp in order to cut down the nets next March, but he gives them a chance.
Teams to watch: Billings Central, Columbia Falls, Dillon
A girls: Laurel
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After winning the 2013 championship, Laurel graduated all five starters. The Locomotives still won the Eastern A this season and finished fourth at the state tournament. They only graduate two starters this go-around, and Allie McGrath and Abbie Lohof are back.
Teams to watch: Columbia Falls, Dillon, Hamilton
B boys: Glasgow
This year’s Bigfork team proved you don’t need a bunch of returning starters to win the state title. It usually helps, though, and Glasgow – along with a handful of other Class B teams – has a good nucleus back. Look for Chase Fossum to have a big season.
Teams to watch: Bigfork, Columbus, Malta
B girls: Malta
Fairfield’s run appears to be over now that Jill Barta and her senior classmates are graduating. But Northern B rival Malta is primed to get back on top. The M-ettes nearly knocked off the Eagles in the State B championship, and they’ll be the favorites next year behind Sophia Stiles.
Teams to watch: Forsyth, Missoula Loyola, Shepherd
C boys: Highwood
If Highwood is going to utilize the freshman talent that got it to the 2012 championship, this is the last chance. Point guard Darren Malek leads a talented class that is looking to get back to the state tournament for the first time since that 2012 trip.
Teams to watch: Box Elder, Fairview, Westby-Grenora
C girls: Saco-Whitewater
With Katie Fertterer and Kara Gerke (finally) graduating, Belt will be hard-pressed to continue its run of Class C dominance. Saco-Whitewater only graduates one senior, so a lot of talent and experience, including Tatum Moore, are back for the Panthers.
Teams to watch: Belt, Gardiner, Roy-Winifred