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December 5, 2012
Northwest Montana A Conference



Class A boys' basketball preview: Columbia Falls reloads, aims high


Jesse Sims, left, of Stevensville and Nico Graham of Missoula Big Sky struggle for a rebound during a game last season. Sims is one reason Stevi is the co-favorite to win the Southwestern A.

Such is the strength of the Columbia Falls boys’ basketball program that even in a year when no starters return, the Wildcats are still favored to win the Northwestern A.

Columbia Falls lost all five starters off a team that went 19-4 and lost in the State A title game to Dillon in March. But the cupboard is never bare: Eight lettermen return.

That includes Luke Kazlauskas, a junior guard who in March helped the Wildcats make their sixth title-game appearance in 10 years.

The Wildcats no doubt remember that title game ended in a 54-39 loss to Dillon – a team that made its fourth championship appearance in six seasons.

The cupboard isn’t bare in Dillon either. The Beavers remain co-favorites, along with Stevensville, in the Southwestern A.

Here’s a look at both conferences, which each send two teams to the State A tournament:

Northwestern A

“It’s nice to have that respect,” said Columbia Falls coach Cary Finberg, who has guided the Wildcats to four State A crowns. “But at the same time these kids have practiced with those teams these last couple years. Now is their chance; I think they’re ready for it.”

Kazlauskas averaged nearly 10 points off the bench last year; in Ty Morgan, Finberg hopes he has a similar player. The Wildcats also have length in 6-foot-4 Jared Trinastich.

“We don’t have the big headliner that we maybe had in the past, with (Nick) Emerson or (Austin) Barth,” Finberg said. “But these kids have had very successful freshman and sophomore seasons.”

Polson lost three starters, including shooting guard Zach Camel, but picked up a couple transfers in Andrew Weltz (Forks, Wash.) and Cedrick Earth Boy (Ronan). The Pirates will rely heavily on two players with the most experience: forward Will Davey and center Riley Sampson.

Whitefish had state-tourney thoughts last year before Polson upended the Bulldogs in a challenge game. The Bulldogs have two starters back, including 5-6 guard Cooper Olson, and head coach Mark Casazza is banking on a strong junior class and team speed to make a difference.

Four returning starters have Frenchtown aiming high after a 6-14 campaign a year ago. Coach Michael Botsford celebrates his team’s chemistry and speed: “We talk about having this be an indoor track season,” he said.

John Chapman is a capable shooter for the Broncs, who also have length in the 6-4 Kyle Cyr.

Libby has five seniors returning, including 6-2 post player Kraig Nelson, but keying the Loggers will be guard Jared Winslow. The junior led the league in scoring a year ago at 14.3 ppg.

Southwestern A

Stevensville took a fairly young team to its first state tournament in four seasons last year. Now that 6-4 Jesse Sims is a sophomore and 6-4 Zach Gavlak is a junior, the Yellowjackets aren’t about to settle for anything less.

Add in shooting guard Jared Schultz and Stevi should be the team to beat. Problem is, Dillon is still in the league. The two teams finished in a dead heat in preseason polling.

The Beavers graduated four starters but the one who returns – 6-4 Ben Folsom (11 points, 5 rebounds a game) – is a dandy. Coach Terry Thomas intends to push the tempo with a team that includes 6-7 senior Caleb Gillis.

“Once again, Tinsel Town should be tough to deal with,” Stevi coach Keith Chambers said of Dillon. “They are well-coached, play hard and have some really good athletes.”

Eighth-year Butte Central coach Brodie Kelly says this year’s team has played more basketball than any he’s coached. Guard Brady Tippett is the top returnee; if 6-5 senior Emmett McCarthy blossoms like Kelly expects, the Maroons could be tough.

A knee injury to 6-5 Kelton Pitzinger has made Hamilton a bit smaller, and coach Toby Stack will have the Broncs pushing the ball and shooting plenty from outside the arc. Reese Isherwood (5 ppg) is the top returning scorer.

There’s a new coach in Anaconda: Bill Hill, who spent many years running AAU teams from the area. The Copperheads have one starter back – Jackson Wagner, a junior who averaged 10 points for a team that didn’t win a game last season.

Corvallis enters the post-Riley Bradshaw Era with a new coach as well in Joe Jessop. The 1990 CHS graduate – a cousin to Blue Devil girls’ coach Jay Jessop – has high hopes for 6-5 junior Chase Walker as well his own son, senior point guard Jansen Jessop.

Gone is the dribble-drive that utilized the talents of Bradshaw, who averaged 22.5 points a game a year ago. The Blue Devils are aiming to be balanced on offense and tough on D.

Whether that’s enough to catch Stevensville is the question for Joe Jessop.

“I don’t know how you could pick anybody else,” he said of the Jackets. “I know Dillon is always tough, but I think Stevi has the most talent in the conference ... by a long ways.”


Class A

Teams from Dillon and Columbia Falls have advanced to the last two State A championship games. Great Falls native Terry Thomas is still the head coach at Dillon and has established one of the most consistently successful programs in the state.

Outstanding guard Ben Folsom is back for the Beavers.

The Stevensville Yellowjackets and Billings Central Rams are expected to contend. Jared Schultz and Jesse Sims are back for Stevi, and Daniel Meyer returns for Central.

There are new head coaches in both Browning and Havre, but they aren’t exactly new to the respective programs. At Browning, longtime assistant Mark Magee takes over for Ray Augare, who is now coaching the girls. Lettermen who return for Magee include DJ Lazy Boy, Daniel Hall and Jalen Croff. All are seniors. Lazy Boy averaged double-digits last year.

Curt Leeds, meanwhile, takes over the Havre boys. Leeds, a former star athlete at Havre, has been serving as Tom Reynolds’ assistant in Shelby recently. Havre’s team is led by veterans Thurman Holdsclaw and Kade Rismon.


Versatile Maroons ready for return to State

Updated: December 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm
Junior guard Kale Guldseth will start for the Maroons in 2012-13.Junior guard Kale Guldseth will start for the Maroons in 2012-13.

Butte Central’s boys’ basketball team returns four key players from last year.

The Maroons, though, might not be easy to recognize as they open the 2012-13 season Friday and Saturday at the BC Tip-Off Tournament at the Butte Civic Center and Maroon Activities Center.

Expect a more up-temp team as the Maroons look to bounce back from a rare season in which they didn’t make the Class A state tournament.

“The last few years we were so methodical,” Butte Central coach Brodie Kelly said. “Every possession was surgery.”

Kelly enters his ninth year leading the Maroons. He is 125-62 at BC, and his teams made the State tournament in his first seven years. Last year BC missed out after a nail-biting loss to Stevensville in the Southwestern A Divisional semifinals in Dillon.

Kelly says this year’s team brings a lot more versatility to the table.

“What’s new about this team compared to a lot of teams in the past is I think we’ve got four starters who can all potentially score 15-20 points, and they’re all versatile,” Kelly said. “They’re perimeter guys, they can score off in the paint, they can score off the dribble. It’s nice.”

Senior Brady Tippett is the lone returning starter. He was an All-Conference player a year ago, averaging 10.2 points per game in the regular season.

Kelly marvels at Tippett’s work ethic and love of the game.

“He’s a machine,” Kelly said. “He just absolutely lives for basketball. We practice two hours a day. He comes here after school and shoots for 20 minutes or a half hour, lifts, comes up her for practice and then everyday he stays in the gym an extra 15 minutes shooting. Even during football, he’s in here.”

Tippett reached double figures in nine regular season games, including one 20-point performance. Kelly says he can hurt opponents in many ways.

“What’s great about out him is he’s such a versatile scorer,” Kelly said. “He can catch and shoot, he’s good off the dribble, he’s good in the post. ”

Tippett will be joined in the starting lineup by juniors Connor McGree Kale Guldseth and Nate Bolstad and sophomore Marcus Ferriter.

Guldseth, Bolstad and Ferriter were key reserves last year. McGree was a junior varsity player last year.

“We really have four of our top eight guys back last year,” Kelly said. “So even though we’ve only got two seniors, I don’t feel like we’re inexperienced compared to most teams. We’ve got some guys who played some varsity.”

Guldseth, who is listed at 5-foot-10, has gotten bigger since last season. Kelly said the guard who reached double digits scoring four times last year in the regular season has also grown as a player.

“He just looks so much more confident and assertive than he did last year,” Kelly said.

The 6-4 Bolstad is looking to build on the promise he showed last year before injuries slowed him down late in the season, while the 6-3 McGree produced as a freshman last season.

McGree is an athletic 6-3 post player.

Kelly feels his team is at least eight deep heading into the season. Senior Emmett McCarty, sophomores Danny Peoples and Dalton Sessions will be the first players off the bench.

McCarthy is BC’s tallest player at 6-5. He’s looking to follow in the footsteps of his brother, Keegan, who first became a force as a senior for the Maroons.

Peoples, who played junior varsity as a freshman, has grown to 5-11, while Sessions is 6-1.

Juniors Wyatt Kingston and Jimmy Martz and sophomores Chad Peterson and Kaemen Richards are also listed on the BC roster and will vie for playing time.

The Maroons went 13-8 last season, and their bid to get back to state won’t be an easy one.

Only two teams advance from state from a conference that includes defending Class A State champion Dillon, which returns senior Ben Folsom.

Stevensville went to State last year, and the Yellowjackets return three All-Conference players in Zack Gavlak, Jesse Sims and Jared Schultz.

Kelly said he expects Hamilton to be tough after finishing last season strong. Corvallis and Anaconda are kind of a mystery with new coaches taking over this season.

The Maroons will need to be sharp out of the gate. After playing Browning and Laurel in non-conference games at the Tip-Off Tournament, the Maroons play Conference games against Stevensville, Anaconda and Hamilton before the Christmas break.

The divisional tournament is Feb. 21-23 on Butte Central’s home court at the Maroon Activities Center. The State tournament is March 7-9 in Billings.


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