While Northwestern A has at least two boys teams that appear to be among the state’s elite, the girls are still waiting for their frontrunners to emerge.
Polson seems to be the favorite, though Columbia Falls can never be counted out as long as the Wildcats have senior Kayla DeWit, one of the top post players in Montana. Libby, Whitefish and Ronan are fighting to put themselves in the upper half on the conference standings as well.
So far, it’s been a slow start for the conference. Teams from Northwest Montana went 1-11 at an annual tip-off tournament against Southwestern A teams and the one victory came from Class B Bigfork. The Valkyries beat Hamilton 56-32.
Injury woes have plagued Polson, which is 1-3 on the season. But senior Breanne Kelley, a 5-9 forward, is healthy and playing as well as anybody in the conference. Kelley, the daughter of head coach Randy Kelley, was named all-state last year after helping the Pirates make the state tournament where they lost out in two games.
When healthy, the Pirates have a well-rounded lineup, with three or four players capable of posting double figures in scoring on any given night. Junior post Riley Kenney and junior guard Mariah Hamel, both sidelined early by injuries, will give Polson a boost when they return to the floor.
Columbia Falls was Northwestern A’s other representative at the state tournament last year. The Wildkats went 1-2 at the tourney, beating Frenchtown 46-41. The Wildkats lost several key players, including all-state post Kelsey DeWit, who is playing at Montana Tech.
But the Wildkats still have another DeWit in 6-2 senior Kayla DeWit. DeWit, who will play at Montana State University, averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds last year and was named all-state. This year, she is again leading the conference in scoring at 17 points.
Another key player on the Columbia Falls roster is 5-9 senior guard Danielle Gilley, an all-conference selection last year. As of Dec. 20, the Wildkats were winless at 0-4 on the season.
Libby, coached by Jim May, lost Jackie Mee to graduation last year. Mee was one of the top athletes in Montana in high school and now plays for Carroll College. In Mee’s absence, 5-10 senior forward Jaime Gilden has taken on more of the scoring load. Gilden is second in the conference in scoring at almost 15 per game.
Alysha Martin, a 5-8 senior guard, provides leadership and another consistent scoring option for the Loggers. Libby’s record is 1-4.
Ronan won only two games this year but has a strong post presence in 5-10 senior Alice Van Gunten. Many of the other Maiden players are young and unproven, with several sophomores playing substantial minutes. Ronan, 0-4, is coached by Doug Fisher.
Whitefish is also coming off a two-win season. Head coach Sean Duff, in his second year, will look to his seniors for leadership, led by 5-8 forward Olivia Nagler, 5-10 forward Olivia Curtiss and 5-8 forward Heather Bailey. The Bulldogs are 0-4.
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