Rest of 8C girls’ teams trying to catch Belt

Piper Johnson returns for her senior year as a member of the Winnett-Grass Range girls’ basketball team.  Photo by Doreen Heintz

By: 
Doreen Heintz
Sports Editor

For eight consecutive years, the rest of the girls’ teams in District 8C have had to take second fiddle to the Lady Huskies of Belt. The same scenario should hold true again this year. Teams like Roy-Winifred, Centerville and Winnett-Grass Range have played tough against the Lady Huskies but have not been quite good enough to unseat the strong team from Belt. Since 2012 Belt has lost only one game at the state tournament – in 2015, the Lady Huskies lost their opening-round game but came back to take third place. With five state championships in the last six years, the team looks poised to win another. Their success at the district and divisional level is even more impressive.

Belt
Much of the credit for the success has to go to Coach Jeff Graham, but the girls put in a lot of time in the gym perfecting their skills during the offseason. Graham, who is now in his 11th year as head coach of the Lady Huskies, has an overall record of 248-28 at Belt.
Despite losing three very good seniors to graduation, the cupboard is not bare for Graham this year. Returning for her senior year is Dani Urick. Urick is viewed as one of the best girl basketball players, regardless of classification, in Montana this year. Urick has been an all-conference and all-state player throughout her high school years. Last year, she averaged 17.6 points/game, 6.1 rebounds/game and 3.3 assists and steals/game.
Another key senior for the Lady Huskies is post player Adrian Malek. Malek averaged 5 points/game and four rebounds/game. Other key seniors include Ryan Schraner and Briana Wall.
“We will have good depth again,” said Graham. “This will be the tallest team we’ve had since 2008. The four seniors are very experienced. Junior Morgan Cooper was the first player off the bench last year.”
Add to that a strong sophomore class, which includes Kolby Pimperton and Shelby Paulson.
“Both Shelby and Kolby played a lot of varsity minutes last year,” Graham said. “We will be counting on five more of our sophomores to contribute this year. Because of our good depth and team speed, we will continue to play up-tempo.”
Graham sees District 8C as being tough again.
“Our conference games will prepare us for tournament time,” Graham added.
The Lady Huskies begin the season this weekend at an Invitational Tournament in Shelby. On Friday, the girls face Class B state runner-up Malta at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the Lady Huskies face host Shelby at 7 p.m.
Graham’s assistant coaches are Suzy Maki and Renzi Horton.

Roy-Winifred
Veteran co-coaches Mauri Ellness and Marietta Boyce return several starters off last year’s state team. The two coaches only lost Lorianne Stulc and Kaylie Carlstrom to graduation. Returning for the Lady Outlaws are seniors Brietta Boyce, Samantha DeMars, Jada Goettlich and Hannah Pappas. Keyara Bahnmiller is the only returning junior, while a strong class of sophomores, Dyauni Boyce, Rebecca DeMars, Olivia Geer and Cassie Smith, also return for Ellness and Boyce.
The Lady Outlaws open the 2017-2018 season at the Fergus Holiday Showcase Tournament. Friday the Lady Outlaws face Broadus at 1:30 p.m. Saturday’s opponent is Harlowton at 7 p.m.

Winnett-Grass Range
Veteran Coach Vic Westphal welcomes back most of his 2017 team that finished third at the District 8C Tournament and fourth at the Northern C Divisional Tournament last year. The only player missing from this year’s roster is Kita Weingart, who graduated.
Returning senior players for Westphal are Piper Johnson, Taylor Stahl and Kendra Murnion. Juniors include Sydney Browning and Brynn Jolma. A total of seven letterwinners are on this year’s roster.
The Lady Rams got a half-season of basketball (nine games) just during the district and divisional tournaments. Those nine games were played in the space of eight days.
“We played some of our best basketball at the right time last year,” said Westphal about the 2016-2017 season.
Westphal knows District 8C is one of the toughest girls’ districts in the state.
“You better come ready to play every night with having the most competitive district in the state,” Westphal said.
At the divisional level, Westphal sees Belt, Box Elder, Fort Benton and Roy-Winifred as having strong teams again this season. During last year’s Northern C Divisional, Belt finished first, followed by Roy-Winifred in second and Fort Benton in third. The Lady Bears of Box Elder fell in a Saturday morning loser-out contest after losing to Belt by two points in a scintillating semi-final game.
Westphal looks for Belt, Twin Bridges and Box Elder to be the teams to beat at the Class C state level.
The Lady Rams kick-off the 2017-2018 season playing at the Broadview-Lavina Invitational this weekend. On Friday Winnett-Grass Range faces Carter County (Ekalaka) at 3 p.m. in Lavina. Saturday the Lady Rams play White Sulphur Springs in Broadview at 3 p.m.
Kate Johnson is Westphal’s assistant coach.

Tri-City
Look for the Lady Titans to move into the upper echelon of District 8C this year. The team, under the direction of Coach Roger Derks, has a very strong junior class. Seniors Mamie Hertel and Savannah Hildreth and sophomore Madison Deupree, along with a number of promising freshmen, should provide the Lady Titans with enough fire power to compete in the tough District 8C. Hildreth and Sierra Stahl are both transfers.
Juniors who started last season are Sami Connerton, Chloe Derks, Brianna Bergum and Kristen Vincent. Other juniors are Claire Stevenson and Brooke Granot.
“We are looking to have a good year,” said Coach Derks. “With the added depth of our two transfers we look to be competitive with the top teams in the district.”
Derks said the Lady Titans had some good wins last year. Their season ended with a tough overtime loss to Centerville at the district tournament.
Like all of the other coaches in the state, Derks sees Belt as the team to beat at the divisional and state level. He looks for Box Elder and Fort Benton also to be strong in the northern divisional, while Belt and Twin Bridges may be the best at the state level.
The Lady Titans already played two games this season. On Friday the team traveled to Gardiner to play the Lady Bruins. Saturday Tri-City hosted Foothills Christian in Moore and came away with a 60-13 win.
Derks’s assistant coach is Karen Hickey.

Denton-Geyser-Stanford
Breanna Todd is the new coach for the Lady Bearcats of Denton-Geyser-Stanford. Todd takes over a team that had few victories last season, but returns eight starters this year. The only two seniors on the squad are Julia Grubb and Natalie Sloan. Juniors include Cassidy Randel and Bailey Howell. Sophomores are Keonna Cunningham and Mariah Schott. Freshman Sydney Von Bergen and Addie Woodhall saw playing time on the varsity last year as eighth graders.
“I am very excited for this first season coaching the Lady Bearcats,” said Todd. “I see a lot of potential in this team. They are willing to work hard and improve every day.
“We are in a very strong girls’ conference, but I am excited to see how these girls step up to play,” added Todd. “We are looking forward to a competitive season.”
Todd asked her dad, Glenn, to come out of retirement to assist her this year.
“He is a great asset to the program,” she said.
The Lady Bearcats kick off the season at the Fergus Holiday Showcase Tournament. Thursday DGS faces Reed Point-Rapelje at 4 p.m. Their opponent on Friday is Shields Valley. Game time on Friday is 10:30 a.m.

Geraldine-Highwood
Like DGS, Geraldine-Highwood depended on eighth-graders to complete its team last season. Coach Brandon Gondeiro played three eighth graders consistently at the varsity level. Taylor Larson is the only senior on the squad this year Two key returnees for Gondeiro are 5-11 junior Jackie Long and 5-5 sophomore Ellie Meeks.
“Jackie was our leading scorer and rebounder last year,” said Gondeiro, “while Ellie was our second leading scorer. She also led us in assists from her point guard position.”
Gondeiro added the team was playing its best basketball at the end of the season last year.
“We hope to continue the improvement we saw towards the end of last year,” Gondeiro said. “We are still a young squad with only three upperclassmen on the roster. Our youth received tons of experience last year, as most of them had to play at the varsity level. With another year of maturity, we are looking forward to competing at a higher level this winter.
“The 8C will be one of the toughest conferences in the state once again,” added Gondeiro. “as the top four teams will all have the ability to play Saturday night at the divisional level.”
Gondeiro sees Box Elder and Belt as the clear cut favorites at the Northern C Divisional.
“Box Elder should be a much deeper squad this year,” he said. “Outside of those two, the next tier will include Winnett-Grass Range, Roy-Winifred, Tri-City, Fort Benton and possibly Simms.”
Gondeiro, who helps with radio broadcasting at the state tournament, said there was a lot of youth who played last year.
“Twin Bridges in the west, Harlowton in the south and Froid-Medicine Lake and Savage in the east are all teams that will compete to return to the state level,” he said. 
Marilyn Clark is Gondeiro’s assistant coach.

Centerville
The Lady Miners is another team in District 8C with a new coach. Brian Davison has taken over the job this year. Davison also coaches football at Centerville.
The Lady Miners lost five starters from last years’ team.
“Besides all five starters, we also lost the first player off the bench,” said Davison. “We are going to be very young with only one senior and one junior who will see significant playing time, but neither of them have much varsity experience.”
Key returnees include Aubrey Little, Katie Scott, Hailey Christian and Hailey Konesky.
“We do have some decent young talent I am excited to see develop,” Davison said. “Along with our senior and junior, we will be starting three sophomores. We have three freshmen and one sophomore coming off the bench for us.”
Davison’s assistant coach is Alex Lowry.

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