There’s a lot of state-tournament experience. There’s the talent of three returning starters, including a 7-foot college recruit. And if the first basketball game was any indication, there’s also fate and fortune on Glacier’s side this season.
It’s a bright new beginning for the Wolfpack, but the pursuit remains the same as last year. Nine months ago Glacier was in Bozeman for the Class AA state tournament, riding an eight-game winning streak and fresh off a second straight Western conference championship. But then Flathead crushed its cross-town rival’s title hopes in the semifinals, and a day later Glacier was returning home empty handed for the fourth year in a row.
There’s no need for a reminder. The bitter taste is still lingering for the 10 seniors and two juniors who form the latest Wolfpack.
“They’re very hungry. They had a taste. They were almost there but didn’t quite reach it,” sixth-year head coach Mark Harkins said. “We talk about (the semifinal loss to Flathead) every once and awhile, but we don’t harp on it every day. But it is always on the back of their mind.”
The AA field is wide open this season. Billings West, who defeated Flathead 61-48 to win its first championship since 2008, graduated its 6-foot-8 duo, Danny Robison and Brady Gustafson.
The Braves, under 10th year head coach Fred Febach, are trying to defy expectations; a preseason coaches poll predicted Flathead sixth out of seven teams in the West. The team returns two starters — seniors Matthew Tokarz and Shea Schroeder — as well as 6-8 senior Garth West.
Bright signs have emerged, mainly West’s 29-point game against Libby and a 53-50 win in Columbia Falls.
Early season buzz surrounds Billings Skyview, Missoula Hellgate and both Helena teams.
But no team stands out more in the landscape than Glacier. League coaches named the Wolfpack the preseason favorite in the West. That’s because the team’s roster is filled with talent and experience back from last year when Glacier won its first state tournament game.
“They’re really focused on being successful and playing on Saturday in March,” Harkins said. “But they’re also very grounded in the fact that it’s not just going to happen. Nobody’s going to give it to them just because they’re picked No. 1. That just means that every game someone is going to give them their best shot.”
It’s worth pointing out how the season got started.
In the opener in Great Falls earlier this month, the Wolfpack sank three buzzer-beaters, including the game-winner from beyond half court in overtime, to beat C.M. Russell. The fortune-filled evening featured senior Charlie Obermiller draining a half-court shot at the end of the first quarter; senior Kyle Griffith nailing a last-second game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation; and finally junior Bryan Michaels launching a shot from almost 60 feet away that gave Glacier a 62-61 victory over the preseason No. 3 team in the East.
“It was crazy,” Harkins said.
Ryan Edwards, the Wolfpack’s largest and most-talked-about asset, missed the first two games after rolling his ankle. The all-state center, who stands 6-11 to be exact, has signed to play for Gonzaga University next year. He led Glacier in scoring, rebounding and blocks as junior, averaging 13.3 points per game, 10.7 rebounds and three blocks.
Edwards returned to the lineup against Great Falls High and had 10 points and six rebounds in Glacier’s third-straight win to start the year.
Griffith and junior Evan Epperly both return from last season with considerable talent and starting experience at the guard position.
Griffith has also missed action, forcing Harkins to shake up the lineup.
“It’s been an interesting start just because we haven’t had all of our guys together yet,” Harkins said. “It’s been kind of fun to see the kids step up.”
Senior Logan Iverson has gone from sixth-man to starter. Senior Matt Peters, who has led the JV team in scoring the past two seasons, is now a varsity threat.
“We were pretty bummed about last year when we lost out,” Peters said. “This year we’re going for it.”
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