Cary Finberg is used to his boys being the top team at the Northwestern A divisional basketball tournament. But now his girls are too, perhaps even more so.
The fierce, well-rounded Wildkats are 16-1 overall, 8-0 in conference and the top-ranked team in Class A. Winners of 10 straight, Columbia Falls enters this week’s penultimate tournament at Glacier High School with its sights squarely set on reclaiming the conference crown from two-time defending champ Frenchtown. The fourth-ranked Columbia Falls boys (14-4, 7-1) are aiming for their sixth consecutive divisional title.
The boys and girls divisional tournaments are Feb. 27-March 1 in Kalispell. The top two teams from each bracket will advance to the Class A state tourneys. The boys play March 6-8 in Great Falls. The girls play March 13-15 in Great Falls.
Both Columbia Falls squads earned first-round byes at the divisionals as the top seeds.
The girls tournament opens with No. 4 Polson (3-15, 2-6) playing No. 5 Whitefish (1-17, 0-8) at 6 p.m., Thursday. The winner advances to play Columbia Falls at 3 p.m., Friday. No. 3 Libby (7-11, 4-4) plays No. 2 Frenchtown (13-5, 6-2) at 4:30 p.m., Friday. The championship game is 6 p.m., Saturday.
In the boys bracket, No. 4 Polson (4-14, 2-6) plays No. 5 Libby (1-17, 0-8) at 7:30 p.m., Thursday. No. 3 Whitefish (10-8, 5-3) takes on No. 2 Frenchtown (12-6, 6-2) at 7:30 p.m., Friday. The championship game is 7:30 p.m., Saturday.
The consolation games are Saturday afternoon, and the winners can challenge the runner-up teams only if the squads did not already play.
The Frenchtown girls spoiled Columbia Falls’ tournament last year when the Lady Broncs upset the top-seeded Wildkats 49-37 in the divisional championship.
This winter, Columbia Falls has risen to the top of the ranks in dominating fashion. The squad is averaging 57 points per game and holding opponents to barely 31. The lone loss came against Class AA’s Glacier Wolfpack, 53-51, on Jan. 16. The Kats swept Frenchtown, winning 55-42 on Jan. 25, and 47-43 on Dec. 19. They also dropped the second-ranked team in the state, Hamilton (14-3), 46-34 on Dec. 14.
On the boys side, the outstanding season in C-Town has been business as usual. The Wildcats have won seven of their last eight games and are averaging 64 points per game all season while keeping opponents down to 46.
Players to Watch
John Chapman, Frenchtown
The 6-foot-2 senior guard is one of the best all-around players in Montana for any class. He is averaging nearly 22 points per game for the Broncs this season, and dropped 37 against Anaconda in late December.
Jared Winslow, Libby
The 6-1 senior guard has been a mainstay leader for the Loggers in several sports, but especially on the basketball court. This season Winslow is averaging 18.50 ppg and exploded for 33 points against Ronan in mid-December. He leads the conference in 3-point shooting, averaging 37 percent from behind the arc. He can hold his own against all opponents, as seen by his game-high 20 points against Glacier last month.
Alex Presnell, Columbia Falls
While his teammates Jared Trinastich and Ty Morgan are combining for more than 26 ppg to lead the offense, Presnell is providing a vital weapon to the fourth-ranked Wildcats’ arsenal. In three seasons of varsity basketball, the senior guard has made 152 of 172 free throws, or 88 percent from the charity stripe. As a sophomore he made 23 of 24 and as a junior he sank 89 of 98. This season he’s 40-for-50, and averaging nearly 12 ppg.
Vanessa Stavish, Frenchtown
Listed at 6-1, the Lady Broncs senior forward is a versatile force on the hardwood and has helped Frenchtown win the past two divisional tournaments. The Montana State-Billings recruit is averaging nearly 19 ppg and 8 rebounds per game in her final season. She hit 36 against Florence earlier this month. Columbia Falls will have to find an answer for Stavish if the Wildkats want to reclaim the Northwestern A crown.
Haley Belgarde & Winter Kemppainen, Columbia Falls
This talented duo has helped the Wildkats reclaim their proud tradition on the hardwood by averaging a combined 23 ppg and 16 rpg for the top-ranked team in Class A. Kemppainen, a 5-11 junior forward, scored a game-high 16 points in Columbia Falls’ 47-43 win over host Frenchtown in one of the first games this season, setting a dominant tone that hasn’t let up. Belgarde, a 6-0 senior forward, is having another all-state season in the paint, and will likely play a key role for Columbia Falls in its quest to retake the conference championship.
Follow flatheadbeacon.com for live results from the tournament.
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