Karly Tait’s coaching career is still young, but she already has a reputation for lifting teams out of mediocrity and making them contenders.
In the last of her five years as head coach of Class B Cascade High School’s girls basketball team, Tait led the Badgers to the first state tournament appearance in the school’s history. Cascade ended up fourth and the Montana High School Association nominated Tait for coach of the year.
This winter, Tait takes over a Flathead High School team that is coming off a 2-18 season but is full of young talent. Tait was the junior varsity coach last year. Former head coach Kim Elliot resigned.
The Bravettes have only two seniors, with a strong core of juniors and sophomores. And 30 freshmen tried out for the program this year.
“Overall we’re pretty young, which is good,” Tait said. “We’ve got lots of work ahead of us.”
The youth is good, Tait said, because she has a chance to build the team’s foundation from the ground up with eager underclassmen. The seniors, Taylor Keltner and Annie Cronk, will be guiding forces in building that foundation.
Flathead has two returning starters in sophomore Tess Brenneman and junior Danika Johnson. Brenneman is a versatile athlete who was one of the state’s top track performers as a freshman. Tait said “Tess is a defensive leader for us.”
Johnson is coming off a superb volleyball season in which she was one of the top hitters in Class AA. At 6 feet 2, the Bravettes will try to get Johnson involved in the offense as much as possible. If she gets the ball in position on the blocks, she’s difficult to defend with her height.
“We need to get her the ball inside,” Tait said.
Tait is no stranger to Northwest Montana basketball. She was a three-time all-state selection for the Polson Lady Pirates from 1996-1998. Her father, Karl Tait, was the longtime girls basketball coach at Polson before retiring last year. So, after her five-year stint at Cascade, it felt natural for Tait to return to the Flathead. She missed summer days by the lake.
With Tait, the Bravettes get a coach who is fairly recently removed from her playing days, which could prove advantageous in relating to the girls. Following high school graduation in 1998, Tait went on to play for the University of Montana Western, where she was honorable mention all-conference twice. Her team made it to the NAIA national tournament all four years.
Turnout for the Bravettes’ basketball program was excellent this year, Tait said. Of the nearly 60 girls who tried out, about 40 girls were kept for all four teams: freshmen, sophomore, junior varsity and varsity.
The biggest loss from last year’s team is Kelsey Hildal, who graduated and now plays for the University of Montana. Hildal, a 5-4 point guard, was an all-state selection, averaging 18.8 points per game, including a school-record 39 against Missoula Big Sky.
But Tait has a roster full of girls looking to step up in Hildal’s absence. Aside from Brenneman and Johnson, the other three starting lineup positions could juggle for a few games while Tait finds the right formula. The Bravettes open up their season on Dec. 12 at Great Falls High.
With such a young team, Tait said her girls will have to focus on taking care of the ball and shooting consistently from the outside. Through the first couple weeks of practice, Tait has been impressed with the girls’ defensive intensity. Defense is Tait’s top priority.
“We’re hoping that our defense will feed into our offense,” she said.
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