Kalispell Boys Basketball Showing Strength

By Beacon Staff

Heading into the heart of the high school basketball season, several local teams are showing signs of strength, including both Class AA boys teams in Kalispell.

Glacier (7-2 overall, 1-1 in conference) and Flathead (6-4, 2-0) are currently tied for fifth place in the AA rankings.

Both teams have found success using balanced scoring attacks.

Glacier picked up a notable win at home against Columbia Falls, Class A’s fifth-ranked team, thanks to five players scoring seven points or more, including Ryan Edwards’ 24. The Wolfpack beat the Wildcats 60-46.

Flathead split with Columbia Falls this season, winning the first meeting 63-55 but falling last weekend 52-44.

The remainder of both teams’ schedules features all Western AA conference games. Fourth-ranked Helena Capital (7-3, 3-0) currently leads the West, just ahead of Flathead.

Flathead and Glacier meet for the first of two crosstown games on Feb. 2 at Flathead.

For girls, Glacier is currently 6-3 overall and 1-1 in conference. Flathead is 5-5 and 0-2. Missoula Sentinel leads the West at 7-1, 3-0.

In Class A, the defending champs from Columbia Falls (8-3, 4-0) have showed a lot of promise so far. The Wildcats currently have four players averaging double-figure scoring – Austin Barth (13 points per game), Anthony Correa (12.6 ppg), Luke Kazlauskas (10.7 ppg) and Parker Johnson (10.5 ppg).

Whitefish (6-5, 2-2) is second in Northwestern A followed by Polson (5-4, 2-1). Whitefish’s Gage Vasquez leads the division in scoring with 19.8 ppg.

For girls, Frenchtown (10-1, 4-0) leads the division followed by fourth-ranked Polson (8-2, 3-1). Polson’s Riley Kenney is leading the division in scoring with 20.7 ppg.

Both Bigfork teams continue to stand out in Class B as contenders. The fifth-ranked Vikings (10-2, 5-0) lead District 7B while the eighth-ranked Valkyries (10-2, 4-1) are at the top as well.

Flathead’s Larry Francis has put together a senior wrestling season similar to several great Brave wrestlers before him. Francis won arguably the toughest tournament in the state – the Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic – and recently went undefeated at the Class AA Duals. Francis enters the final stretch of the season ranked No. 1 for his weight class, for all classes.

Francis was ranked first at 171 pounds in the final All-Class High School Wrestling Poll organized by the law firm Hoyt and Blewett PLLC in Great Falls. The rankings were released Jan. 23. Class A defending state champion Kyle Leir of Libby is ranked first at 145 pounds.

Francis will enter the AA state tournament on Feb. 10-11 as a strong contender looking to bring home his first state title. Francis has finished runner-up twice, but his head coach believes this year will end different. Only six Flathead wrestlers have won Jug Beck titles since Matt Owen took over as head coach four years ago.

“Larry had a tremendous tournament beating many quality wrestlers along the way to the title,” Owen said. “The wrestler from Mead that he beat in the finals is a Washington State champ and also a Tri-State champ. It is hard enough to win a Rocky title, but to beat a wrestler of that caliber in the finals makes it even more special.”

Owens described the Jug Beck title match as an example of Francis’ heart and strong ability.

Francis was able to hold off his opponent for the remainder of the match and earn his first Jug Beck victory.

“It was a huge breakthrough for him and sets him up to have a great finish to the year,” Owen said.