Loud, boisterous cheering sections. Packed bleachers, standing-room only. High-intensity action at center court.
The atmosphere inside the Glacier High School gymnasium during last week’s crosstown basketball showdown felt a lot like the postseason. If this pace keeps up, that’s exactly where Kalispell’s squads will end up a month from now.
The boys and girls teams at both Glacier and Flathead are showing renewed strength across the board as the excitement of basketball season reaches a fever pitch.
Down to the final weeks of the regular season, the Glacier boys are atop the Western AA standings with a 13-1 overall record, including 6-0 in conference. The Wolfpack grabbed impressive wins last week, defeating Flathead 57-41 in front of an estimated 2,800 fans before defeating Missoula Sentinel 61-50 at home on Feb. 4.
Both games showcased the Pack’s ultimate strength: the dominating force of Jaxen Hashley and the abundant talents of his strong supporting cast. Hashley, a senior who officially signed to play football at Montana State University last week, is making the most of his final basketball season and is averaging 17 points per game, third most in Montana for all of Class AA. He leads in rebounding with more than 11 per game.
Three other players are averaging at least 7 points per game — Caden Harkins, who scored 17 against Sentinel (8-6, 5-1), Tadan Gilman and Brec Rademacher — and another, Kody Jarvis, is averaging 6.
With a talented and deep lineup, Glacier is hoping to return to the state tournament a year after missing out. The Class AA state tourney is March 9-11 in Great Falls. Glacier hosts Helena (3-10, 2-4) on Friday and Helena Capital (2-12, 1-5) on Saturday.
Flathead is eyeing its own playoff run with a skilled roster featuring size and shooting abilities. The Braves are 6-8 overall (2-4 in conference) and will try to end a four-game losing streak this weekend at home against Helena and Helena Capital. Flathead is trying to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2012, when the Braves placed second.
The Braves have stayed close in nearly every game, with an average score differential of barely 2 points deciding each of their games. Three players are averaging double figures, led by Tyler Johnson, 13 ppg, and followed by Sam Elliot and Wyatt Potter, who are both at 11 ppg.
On the girls side, two new coaches have settled in and are making strides with their respective squads.
At Glacier, Bill Sullivan is guiding the Wolfpack up the Western AA standings. Glacier is currently third with a 6-8 overall record (4-2 in conference).
The Pack survived a tough test against Flathead last week for its 14th consecutive crosstown victory, 40-34.
“Flathead is good and they certainly pose problems,” Sullivan said. “Defensively is how we get things done.”
Senior Nikki Krueger has been the vocal and physical leader for the Pack this season, averaging 13 points per game and nine rebounds. Against Flathead, she had a team-high 10 points.
The team’s offense is still looking to grow, and the squad only managed 26 points in a loss to first-place Missoula Sentinel last weekend. But multiple players have stepped up to fill important roles in different games.
“We have to make sure everybody is understanding what they can do on the floor and not be selfish and play as a team,” Sullivan said. “We need more consistency on offense.”
Sullivan is in his first season since taking over for Kris Salonen, who stepped down after 6 ½ seasons. Glacier is eyeing a return to the state tournament a year after missing out. The girls state tournament is also in Great Falls on March 9-11.
At Flathead, fellow first-year coach Tricia Dean has the Bravettes in the postseason hunt. Flathead is 7-7 overall and 2-4 in conference with key games this weekend in Helena. The team is already approaching its overall win total — 11 games — for the last three years combined and hoping to advance to the state tournament for the first time since 2013.
Dean hopes last week’s loss to Glacier will be an eye-opener for the girls as the season winds down and reaches crunch time.
“With the exception of (crosstown), they’ve played very, very well and really worked together as a team,” she said. “They lost that for some reason tonight, but as the season goes on, I feel we’re getting better each week, which is good.”
Senior Tiana Johnson is shining in her final prep season. The all-state Bravette is averaging 18 points per game, most in Montana. Several other players have stepped up as strong supporting players: Kylee Meredith is averaging 10 points per game, Kelsey Gillespie is averaging 8 and Mary Heaton is at 6.
“Offensively, we have quite a few threats on the court, and I think we’re hard to guard when we’re running our stuff,” Dean said.
“The girls are working really hard and they’re buying into everything we’re throwing at them. I’m really pleased with their response and the community’s response. They’re really getting behind them and supporting them.”