Early Season Hoops

Our local teams have all begun their journey to the tourney

By Jeff Epperly

Pre-Christmas high school basketball is always interesting. Very seldom do teams after Christmas look like they did before Christmas. Usually, it is the grind over time that shapes and guides teams as they move through the season with the end goal of tournament success.

Of course, coaches, players, and fans hope that their team improves as their playing schedule unfolds, but there are no guarantees. Simply progressing through a season does mean that you will get better with the passing of time.

With that said, vision is so important. Coaches must know what they want their team to look like and play like by season’s end. Intentions should always be pre-meditated with what is best for those individuals on the team as they come together to form the collective whole.

Our local teams have all begun their journey to the tourney. Who knows where they will end up by the end of their 20-game schedules? This is the part of high school sports that I like the most. Who would have thought the Polson Pirates would have been a play or two away from playing for a state title last year? And who would have thought the Vikings of Bigfork would play Choteau for the state title and lose in a close one. All of our teams have potential to be better than they are now. Isn’t that a great thought?

At least according to the coaches and the media, there are a couple of teams that are picked to do very well in their respective leagues. I don’t really like preseason prognostications. But here is the skinny going into this season. Good feelings remain with the Vikings and the Pirates. Bigfork has been spotlighted as one of the better teams in the entire state in Class B. In fact, the Great Falls Tribune has them picked No. 1 to start the year. This is a little surprising since the Vikings start four sophomores and have no seniors on the team. How far will they rise?

Then there are the Polson Pirates. They return a really solid core and have their eyes set on another run into the state tournament. They are picked to win the Northwest A. This team seems to have a great mix of size and athletic ability. But can they get better? Will they improve? This will determine how they will do when the tournaments commence at the end of the season.

Expectations are lower for the rest of the teams in the valley, and that is probably a good thing. The Wolfpack just played their first game last Saturday, but what an impression. They blew out the Rustlers of CMR. Glacier is picked in the middle of the pack in Western AA, but, boy, do they have some athletes and a couple of terrific basketball players. The ceiling is very high for the Pack. The Braves again are a little bit of an unknown. Picked last, they need to establish themselves as a team to be reckoned with week in and week out. There is talent in the program, but putting that talent together into a formidable unit will be their challenge. The Wildcats and the Bulldogs have new coaches with new hope. Chris Finberg takes over the Wildcat program looking to reestablish them as perennial contenders. They have been known for having very good teams by tournament time. Sean Duff will lead the Bulldog program, hoping to reignite some passion for hoops in Whitefish. 

But one thing is for sure — every coach will need to define roles for his players, giving clear expectations and positioning them to succeed. It is not where a team starts the season; it is where they finish. High school basketball is all about improving during the course of a season. Which team will improve the most? Will it be yours?