Glacier started off this boys basketball season with an unfamiliar title: the favorite.
The Wolfpack were picked by coaches to be the frontrunner in Western AA, a big honor for a program that is only its fourth season. Glacier has made it to the state tournament the last two years. Last season, the Wolfpack almost upset Billings West in the first round before losing out and finishing 14-9.
For Glacier to be favored in the conference is a testament to the program’s depth at all class levels. The Wolfpack lost standout Ben Cutler two years ago and managed to make it back to state. Then they lost three-time all-state selection Shay Smithwick-Hann last year and have again fielded a strong team this season.
The Wolfpack, coached by Mark Harkins, have an assortment of players 6-4 or taller, along with talented guards like 5-9 Bryan Chery, a combination that can create matchup nightmare for opponents. There are six seniors on the roster: Chery, Trey Griffith, Jacob Leninger, Marshall Boyland, Colter Hanson and Brandon Doty.
Also, up-and-coming 6-10 sophomore Ryan Edwards is living up to his billing through five games. Edwards scored 14 points in a 54-47 victory over Great Falls High on Dec. 17. The win gave the Wolfpack a 3-1 record on the year. The Wolfpack then lost their next game 38-21 to Lake City of Idaho on Dec. 21.
The Lady Wolfpack, coached by Kris Salonen, are expected to improve from last year’s 6-15 record. They have strong senior leadership, led by guard Rachel Cutler. Cutler, the younger sister of Ben Cutler, is a sharpshooter from long range but is also athletic and quick enough to get to the basket.
Glacier’s other key seniors include are Paige Latimer, Cami Mathison, Baylee Quay, Patty Hughes and Ashlee Waggener. Freshman Cassidy Hashley and sophomore Tiffany Marks give the Wolfpack extra height down low at 6-1 and 6-2, respectively. The Wolfpack are 3-2 on the season.
The Flathead Braves lost Karl Ingram, who graduated after helping the Braves to the state tournament and a 12-10 record last season. But the Braves return several excellent athletes, including standout football players Mike VanArendonk and George Sherwood and star baseball pitcher Joe Pistorese.
Sherwood, a 6-5 junior, averaged double-digit scoring last year and could have a breakout season this winter. VanArendonk provides senior leadership, while Pistorese is one of the top passers from the guard position in Western AA. Ian Gillespie is another effective guard for the Braves. Fred Febach is the head coach.
The Bravettes have a talented team, anchored by senior post Danika Johnson and junior guard Tess Brenneman. At 6-2, Johnson can score and defend the paint. Brenneman had a crash-course in running a varsity offense last season as a sophomore and is one of the top overall female athletes in Montana. Brenneman also excels in track and soccer.
Another player to watch is sophomore Cassie Krueger, who is new to the varsity roster but has already turned in the team’s finest offensive performance of the young season. Krueger scored 23 points in a 52-41 win over Columbia Falls on Dec. 16. That victory boosted the Bravettes’ record to 2-0. Karly Tait is the head coach.
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