Northwestern A Divisionals: Frenchtown Girls Claim League Crown

By Beacon Staff

COLUMBIA FALLS – Jim Tolman almost never came out of retirement to coach again. But the lively pack of players on this year’s Frenchtown girls basketball team made him miss being back in the gym. After almost 10 years off, he picked back up the coaching duties for a team that only won seven games last season.

He’s glad he did.

The first season in Northwestern A has been a remarkable one for the Frenchtown Lady Broncs, and they have a trophy to prove it.

Frenchtown used a balanced offensive effort to hold off Polson 40-35 and claim the Northwestern A divisional girls basketball championship on Saturday night.

“This group is just a great bunch of kids. As serious as they are on the court, they’re just as silly off of it. And they love each other,” Tolman said. “That’s the reason I got back in it.”

After playing in Southwestern A the past eight seasons, Frenchtown (18-2) is now the team to beat from the Northwest. The Lady Broncs enter the Class A state tournament as the second ranked team in the final Associated Press poll. Polson (15-5) advances as well. The state tournament is in Butte, March 8-10.

Tournament anxiety appeared to be taking over for both teams in the closing minutes of the tight title game. Polson fought within three points, 38-35, with just under a minute left, but fumbled away a few key opportunities through fouls and turnovers. Frenchtown didn’t capitalize either. Instead of closing out the game with ease, the Lady Broncs turned it over twice in the final 30 seconds.

In a timeout with 17 seconds remaining, Tolman offered a resounding piece of advice to try to quell the team’s anxiety: “Keep your heads!”

They did, until the buzzer sounded. With “the first divisional championship in a long, long time” sealed, Tolman watched as the girls swarmed each other at center court in celebration.

“It’s sweet. It sure is sweet,” Tolman said afterward.

Polson’s Riley Kenney tried captaining the comeback, scoring four points in the final minutes. The senior finished with a game-high 19 points. Polson missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds before Frenchtown put the game away with a pair of free throws.

Sarah Lester and Vaness Stavish keyed the Lady Broncs offense, combining to score 23 points. Lester had 12 and Stavish scored 11. Angel Lowery chipped in six, Emma Oostadyk had five and Kayla Blood finished with 4.

“That was a typical championship game – hard fought, physical and a little sloppy at times,” Tolman said.

Frenchtown trailed 11-7 after the first quarter, but Stavish and Lester led a monster 16-point second quarter that gave the Lady Broncs a lead they never relinquished.

Mariah Camel scored five points for Polson and Anna DiGiallonardo and Heidi Rausch each had four. Hallie Hovenkotter added two and Mackenzie Banner scored one.