Heading into the final weekend of high school basketball season, the stars seemed aligned for Glacier High School to win its first Class AA boys state tournament game.
The Wolfpack qualified for state in 2009 and 2010 but failed to claim a victory either year. But this year was different. Glacier entered the tournament with the No. 1 seed and an 11-game winning streak. They were the team to beat.
A year ago, the Wolfpack snuck in with Western AA’s fourth seed and nearly upset Billings West before losing 53-50. West went on to lose in the title game and Glacier went on to lose to Billings Senior, dropping out of the tournament in two games for the second straight year.
But even with a talented bunch like this year’s Wolfpack, sometimes, the shots don’t fall. And unlike in the pros where a team can rebound from a poor shooting night and still win a best-of-seven series, high school teams can’t afford to go cold, which is what happened to Glacier at the Class AA tournament in Butte.
Against two-time defending champion C.M. Russell in the first round on March 10, the Wolfpack shot 18-for-57 from the field, just a little over 30 percent. Bryan Chery, the team’s leading scorer, made only one of his 16 field-goal attempts.
During the regular season, Chery averaged 12.5 points, including 41-for-108 – 38 percent – from three-point range. He was even better in conference games at 14.4 points and over 41 percent on three-pointers.
Kyle Griffith’s 8-for-15 shooting wasn’t enough to carry Glacier, which lost 51-46 to the Rustlers. Head coach Mark Harkins said the loss was all about poor shooting and had nothing to do with lack of heart. The same can be said about Glacier’s second loss, a 46-44 overtime defeat to Missoula Sentinel in a loser-out consolation game on March 11.
“If you saw those games, their effort was amazing,” Harkins said. “We just didn’t shoot the ball. We lost our shooting touch.”
Lack of effort was never an issue with this Wolfpack team. Coming into the season, the roster didn’t have a lot of varsity experience. But through tenacious defense and with the guidance of six seniors, the Wolfpack were able to overcome a 3-6 start, which included a five-game losing streak.
After that rough period, Glacier rattled off 11 straight wins. They finished the season with a 14-8 record, including the playoffs.
Glacier’s six seniors were Chery, Trey Griffith, Jacob Leininger, Marshall Boyland, Colter Hanson and Brandon Doty. Harkins said they will be missed.
“They were the foundation,” Harkins said. “We had six seniors who were just amazing young men. Instead of getting frustrated and down on each other (during the struggles), that group of six was just rock solid all year long.”
He added: “Just a great class.”
Flathead High School is also saying goodbye to a senior class that paved the way for another Class AA state tournament appearance. Mike VanArendonk, Matt McLean, Ian Gillespie and Joe Pistorese all were vital in leading the Braves to state, where they lost to Bozeman 87-53 and Missoula Hellgate 60-41.
In the regular season, Pistorese led the Braves in both scoring average at 12.8 points and assists at three per game. Junior George Sherwood led the team in rebounds at 6.7 per game and was second in scoring at 12.4. The Braves finished the year 10-12.
Bigfork also wrapped up its season over the weekend, narrowly missing out on a trip to the Class B boys championship game, which would have been the second time a team from Bigfork High School has played in a state title game this year. The Vikings won the Class B football title in the fall.
The Vikings defeated Huntley Project 60-52 in the first round in Great Falls on March 10, setting up a showdown with undefeated and top-ranked Wolf Point. The Vikings lost a late lead and fell to the Wolves 81-78 in overtime. Christian Ker scored 32 points for the Vikings and Jesse Driftwood scored 33 for the Wolves.
Wolf Point went on to win the title. Bigfork lost to Shelby 65-51 in a loser-out consolation game on March 12.
Though Glacier is losing a fine senior class, Harkins believes his team is well positioned for next season. Two sophomores – Kyle Griffith and Ryan Edwards – started this season, and a number of other underclassmen saw valuable playing time this winter.
“Next year, our kids will have more varsity experience than our kids had this year,” Harkins said.
Despite the heartbreaking state losses, Harkins said “it was a very exciting season for us.” As such a young school, Harkins said “we’re still all about firsts here at Glacier,” – as in, first regular season conference title and first double-digit winning streak, to name a couple. Next year, Harkins hopes to add a first state tournament victory to that list.
“There are still some firsts to get,” Harkins said.
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