Crowded Race on Boys’ Side, Bigfork Team to Beat for Girls

By Beacon Staff

If the regular season is an indicator of what to expect in the divisional tournament, be careful before you make any bold predictions in Northwest A boys basketball.

On the girls’ side, the frontrunners are more apparent, but of course anything can happen in the playoffs. The top two teams from both the girls and boys divisionals go on to play in the state tournament. Boys state is Feb. 28 through March 1 in Billings and the girls state tourney is March 6 -8 in Hamilton.

Here’s a look at how the teams ended up where they are heading into Northwest A divisionals, held at Glacier High School and hosted by Bigfork.

Boys Preview

Going into the final weekend of the regular season, Columbia Falls controlled its own destiny to win the conference. But the Wildcats faltered against Polson on Feb. 15. Polson then wrapped up the conference title with a 59-55 victory over Libby the following day. Ronan, who had been at or near the top of Northwest A all season and finished with the best overall record, lost to last-place Bigfork in the final game of the year to end up with the No. 3 seed.

Five out of the six teams look like eligible candidates to win the tournament, though Bigfork, the tourney’s last seed, proved it’s capable of surprises with the win over Ronan. No. 5 Libby beat both Polson and Columbia Falls during the regular season and is always a serious threat with senior phenom Jim Mee leading the way. Mee finished second in the conference in scoring behind Whitefish’s Colt Idol at 21.6 per game.

Whitefish closed out the regular season winning five out of its last six games, including two victories over Libby, the team it faces in the first round. In the last meeting between the two teams, Whitefish won 90-64 behind a school-record 39 points from Idol.

Columbia Falls and Ronan battled for the top spot for most of the season while sleeper Polson played the role of opportunist and vaulted into first place on the season’s final weekend. Columbia Falls is the perennial favorite in the conference, having won three out of the last five state championships. Last year, Columbia Falls entered divisionals as the top seed only to be upset by Libby.

Girls Preview

The storyline is still true for the playoffs as it was during the regular season: Bigfork is the team to beat and everybody else knows it. The Valkyries, led by a core of seniors including 6-foot-2 Alyssa Fierro, closed out their second straight regular season title by going 17-1 overall and 10-0 in the conference. But before handing the title over to the Vals, a couple of other teams would like to have their say.

No. 2 Libby, 13-5 (7-3), comes in as perhaps the biggest threat to the Vals. The Lady Loggers are led by Jackie Mee, the sophomore sensation and younger sister of Jim Mee. Mee led the conference in scoring at 18.5 per game.

Whitefish is a legitimate contender as well, led by senior Ashley Ferda, who will take her skills to the University of Montana after high school. Ferda finished first or second in the conference in a host of statistical categories, including scoring and assists. The Bulldogs, 11-7 (7-3), finished with the No. 3 seed after losing to Libby 56-50 on Feb. 15.

Polson, Ronan and Columbia Falls round out the tournament field. Polson finished 9-9 (4-6) to earn the fourth seed, while Ronan and Columbia Falls finished with one conference victory apiece. Ronan, with the better overall record at 3-15, got the nod for the No. 5 seed.

Thursday Schedule:

No. 4 Whitefish v. No. 5 Libby at 4 p.m.
No. 3 Ronan v. No. 6 Bigfork at 8 p.m.
No. 1 Polson and No. 2 Columbia Falls have first-round byes

No. 4 Polson v. No. 5 Ronan at 2 p.m.
No. 3 Whitefish v. No. 6 Columbia Falls at 6 p.m.
No. 1 Bigfork and No. 2 Libby have first-round byes

Check back at flatheadbeacon.com for tournament coverage through the weekend.