Glacier’s First Season, Flathead’s Best?

By Beacon Staff

Coach Fred Febach has had some good teams in his five years at the helm of Flathead’s boys basketball team. But he thinks this year’s team could be the best.

The Braves lost only three seniors to graduation and two underclassmen to Glacier High School from last year’s 14-10 state tournament team. So this year Braves’ fans should know what to expect: a tournament-savvy, experienced senior class; a rare combination of speed and size; and, of course, Brock Osweiler’s junior year.

“Experience and size wise,” Febach said, “this is as good of a team as I’ve had.”

But like all coaches, Febach knows that how a team looks on paper doesn’t mean anything until it has some games under its belt. For the time being, though, Febach is impressed with what he’s seen at practice. He said his team’s long hours of off-season training were evident immediately when practice started on Nov. 19.

“It’s not just basketball skills,” Febach said. “We’ve had a number of kids that have spent time working out, working on footwork, working on strength, on agility.”

With Osweiler at 6-feet-8-inches tall and a couple more posts and forwards at least 6-feet-3-inches, team speed might not be the first quality that comes to mind. But the big guys can all move and Febach thinks, “this may be one of the quicker teams we’ve had in a while.” Senior Mike Gallagher, coming off a record-breaking season as a receiver on the Braves’ football team, calls the combination of size and speed “the best of both worlds.”

“We’re going to be fun to watch,” Gallagher said.

Among Flathead’s departing class last year were Luke Cutler and 6-foot-6-inch Geoff Hogan, two of the team’s top scorers. But with seniors like Josh Harris and Colton Hoffenbacker, both taller than 6-feet-3, Febach thinks Hogan’s void can be filled, while players like senior Charlie Dotson and junior Dan Salois can help replace Cutler.

The Braves kick off their season on Dec. 13 in Columbia Falls, followed two days later by their first home game against Libby.

On the other side of town, the Glacier Wolfpack are ready to get the school’s fledgling basketball program off the ground.

Sophomore Shay Smithwick-Hann and junior Ben Cutler bring the most experience to the Wolfpack, with both making the varsity roster at Flathead during the 2006-2007 season. The rest of the Wolfpack, aside from the addition of transfer guard Ben Sansaver from Wolf Point, are new to the varsity level. Smithwick-Hann, a 6-foot-4-inch forward and the Wolfpack’s starting quarterback this fall, saw substantial minutes for the Braves last year.

Coach Mark Harkins said his team’s lack of experience isn’t as much of a crutch as it is a source of excitement. The boys know they’re young, but they also know everything they do is blazing a path, Harkins said.

“Everything is a first,” he said. “The first basket is a record – that’s kind of fun for the team.”

The Wolfpack are coming off an inaugural fall season that brought mixed results. While the football team struggled throughout the year, finishing 0-10, the Pack brought home the state championship in boys golf and were competitive in girls golf, volleyball, boys soccer and girls soccer. Harkins, who was Flathead’s junior varsity coach last year, said he looks at smaller team sports like volleyball, where the absence of seniors isn’t as harshly apparent as on the football field, as potential models for his team. Basketball can be a physical sport, he said, but it’s not a collision sport like football where a junior’s body frame might wear down quicker than a senior’s after a full game of hard hits.

The Wolfpack have a fairly even distribution of sophomores and juniors, and are deep at the guard and small forward spots. Harkins hopes to rely on his team’s quickness in the absence of a lot of big guys down low.

“We have good speed,” Harkins said. “I think we’ll be competitive. I don’t know how many games we’ll win, but we’ll be competitive.”

The Wolfpack’s first game is at home against Couer d’Alene on Dec. 7, followed by another home game against CM Russell the next day.

Related: Northwest A Boys Basketball Preview