This has been a rollercoaster season for the Glacier High School boys basketball team.
First, the Wolfpack were voted No. 1 in Western AA in a preseason coaches poll. Then, after starting 3-1, they lost five straight games beginning in late December and ending with a 42-36 defeat to Columbia Falls on Jan. 20.
They haven’t lost a game since.
With a 79-49 victory over Missoula Big Sky on Feb. 10, Glacier moved its winning streak to seven games and overall record to 10-6, including 6-2 in conference games. The Wolfpack are in second place in Western AA, one game ahead of Missoula Sentinel, 8-8 (5-3), and one game behind Missoula Hellgate, 12-4 (7-1).
For a season that looked bleak after the five-game losing streak, confidence now reigns supreme in the Wolfpack locker room before and after each game. Bryan Chery, a senior guard, said “it was kind of embarrassing when we lost five games in a row after being ranked No. 1.”
Losing streaks tend to mess with a team’s psyche. But any damage can be undone with a little winning – or, in Glacier’s case, a lot of winning.
“It definitely makes us more confident,” Chery said. “When we lost five games in a row, we’d go into games and say, ‘Oh, let’s try not to lose.’ But now we’re expecting to win instead of praying it will be close.”
Head coach Mark Harkins said this year’s team hadn’t previously played together a lot, so an adjustment period could be expected. A major component of that adjustment was building trust, he said.
“We didn’t trust each other,” Harkins said. “We’ve found some trust and we’re doing things as a team, not as individuals. I thought we were very individual during that skid.”
The statistics give credence to Harkins’ belief that the team has learned to work together. Unlike in past years, when players such as Ben Cutler and Shay Smithwick-Hann carried much of the scoring load, this year’s team is thoroughly balanced. Six different players have led the team in scoring during a game.
Chery is the team’s leading scorer at 12.4 points per game. He scored 21 points, including five three-pointers, in the Feb. 10 home victory over Missoula Big Sky. After Chery, Glacier’s scoring leaders are sophomore Ryan Edwards at 8 points per game, senior Trey Griffith at 7, sophomore Kyle Griffith at 6.6 and senior Colter Hanson at 5.6.
The offensive balance is inside-out, led by Edwards down low and Chery on the outside, alongside the Griffiths. Chery and Trey Griffith have combined for 45 three-pointers made this season.
At 6-10, Edwards has been showing star potential in recent weeks. In only his second year of high school, Edwards started off the season just trying to understand his role on the team, Harkins said. He has quickly learned that his role is substantial.
“Ryan is getting better every game,” Harkins said. “He’s understanding the factor he can be in a game. It’s not just scoring. It’s getting rebounds and altering shots. And he’s a great passer.”
Edwards averages 7 rebounds per game, best on the team and top 10 in the state. He is also in Class AA’s top five in blocks and, with his size, undoubtedly alters far more shots than he blocks. In a 77-74 overtime victory over rival Flathead on Feb. 4, Edwards scored 23 points and pulled down 14 rebounds.
“He came in this year and didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes,” Harkins said. “But now he’s figuring out his role and his confidence is growing. It’s been exciting to see him realize how good he can be. He hasn’t even got close to his potential.”
Glacier’s 79 points in the Missoula Big Sky game were the most in school history. Chery said it’s encouraging to see the offense coming together to complement an already strong defense. The Wolfpack average 59.4 points during league games, the most in Western AA, and give up 52.4 points, which is fourth.
“Guys have stepped up and we’re making plays we weren’t making earlier in the year,” Chery said.
If Glacier wants to carry this momentum into the postseason, it will look to the leadership of its seniors, who have all carved out specific roles on the team. Harkins said Chery is “our shooter and spark,” while Colter Hanson is “not a really vocal kid, but he’s a steady leader and he’s always doing the right thing.”
Trey Griffith was chosen by teammates as a captain and, like Hanson, does most of his leading through his play, rather than words. Jacob Leininger is the “motivational guy,” who’s not afraid to be vocal, Harkins said. Brandon Doty has established himself as a strong post presence off the bench, while Marshall Boyland is expected to contribute significantly again after missing several games.
Glacier has back-to-back road games against Helena’s two schools on Feb. 18 and 19. The Wolfpack then close out the season with home games against Missoula Hellgate on Feb. 24 and Flathead on Feb. 25.
There’s a lot to be done before Glacier begins worrying about the state tournament, but Chery said his team is proving it can play with anybody.
“If we keep this up,” he said, “I think we’ll be able to surprise some people at state.”
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