The Undaunted Energy of Crosstown

Even with a half-full arena, fans bring the volume as Wolfpack and Braves split wins in crosstown basketball rivalry

By Micah Drew
Bridget Crowley of the Flathead Bravettes battles for the rebound against Glacier Wolfpack defenders Ellie Keller and Emma Anderson at Glacier High School in Kalispell on Jan. 22, 2021.The Wolfpack won 45-27. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In front of a diminished Glacier student section, school resource officer Wiley Fusaro crouched down, hands grasping at invisible over-the-shoulder restraints.

Fusaro led the students in a gradual chant, “CH-CH-CH-CH-CH,” rising in tempo and pitch until everyone’s invisible rollercoaster cars were perched precariously on the top of a hill.

Suddenly Fusaro’s hands shot up above his head, followed by the rest of the crowd as they all screamed in unison.

“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

As one, the students followed Fusaro’s lead, cheering all the while — hands straight up, left, right, around a corkscrew, up, left, more left, up again and down.

Faces flushed from yelling, the green-and-navy clad students sat down, again turning their attention to the court at Glacier High School where the first crosstown game of the year was underway on Jan. 22.

School Resource Officer Wiley Fusaro leads the student section in “the rollercoaster” during a Crosstown basketball game at Glacier High School in Kalispell on Jan. 22, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On the court, however, Glacier’s boys were struggling.

From the opening whistle, the Braves had wasted no time setting the tone. After Glacier’s Jaxson Olsen put the Wolfpack (1-4 Western AA) on the board first, the Braves (3-2 Western AA) scored a dozen straight points en route to a 62-48 victory.

First-year Flathead head coach Dirk Johnsrud collected his first crosstown win, breaking the program’s five-game losing streak to rival Glacier.

“I was proud of the seniors for being able to go and get a win over Glacier, at Glacier,” Johnsrud said. “We had talked about winning the defensive and turnover battles, and they did just that.”

Gabe Adams of the Flathead Braves flies in for a shot against Glacier Wolfpack defenders Keifer Spohnhauer and Colin Presnell at Glacier High School in Kalispell on Jan. 22, 2021. The Braves beat the Wolfpack 62-48. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Braves’ defense had a strong performance, having come into the matchup giving up a league-worst 68 points per game. At Glacier, they held the Wolfpack’s top scorer, Weston Price, to seven points.

Glacier coach Mark Harkins said the Wolfpack started out a little too tentatively, which hurt the team offensively.

“They shot the ball well, strictly from a statistics perspective,” Harkins said. “But they didn’t get to the free-throw line, which is a sign that you’re not aggressive enough.”

The Wolfpack were aided by the return of senior Keifer Spohnhauer, who sustained an ankle injury in the first minute of the season opener Jan. 7. Spohnhauer added five points for Glacier, including a three that put the game within 10 points halfway through the third quarter.

“Before we see them again, we need to get our confidence back,” Harkins said. “We need to get our swagger back.”

Joston Cripe of the Flathead Braves charges to the basket against the Glacier Wolfpack at Glacier High School in Kalispell on Jan. 22, 2021. The Braves beat the Wolfpack 62-48. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

For the Braves, Johnsrud emphasized that the team’s goal was to push the tempo from the start.

“They’re still getting used to my style of play, but they’re executing everything I ask them to do,” Johnsrud said, “I think we outworked them and that’s what we want to do.”

The Braves turned their defensive prowess into a second-half offensive spree. Hunter Hickey scored 12 points for the Braves in the second half, and Flathead’s top scorer, Joston Cripe, put up nine shots from the free throw line en route to a game-leading 22 points.

“It was just the most complete game of the year so far,” Johnsrud said.

Girls

After first-year Flathead head coach Sam Tudor’s inaugural crosstown game, the sidelines veteran with two Class B state titles on his resume did not hesitate when asked about what went down on the court in the Bravettes’ 45-27 loss to Glacier on Jan. 22.

“If I was going to be honest, I would say I got outcoached,” Tudor said after a night reflecting on the game. “Our girls were ready for it, but [Coach Cram] had us sniffed out and had everything ready to go. They gave us a lot of problems right off the bat.”

For just a few seconds early on, the visitor side of the scoreboard registered more points than the host team, but by halftime, the Wolfpack had amassed a double-digit lead, leaving the Bravettes “a little bit shell-shocked,” according to Tudor.

“They were picking up everything we were laying down and we just were not making a lot of shots,” he said.

Akilah Kubi of the Flathead Bravettes weaves toward the basket against the Glacier Wolfpack at Glacier High School in Kalispell on Jan. 22, 2021.The Wolfpack won 45-27. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Bravettes (1-3 Western AA) hit just one three-pointer while the Wolfpack (3-2 Western AA) capitalized on 24 turnovers, scoring 18 points off of them.

“Honestly, our mindset going into the game was that it was a must-win for us,” Glacier head coach Amanda Cram said. “Not because it was crosstown, and the adrenaline and magic that brings, but because we want to put ourselves in the best seeding going into the postseason as possible, and Flathead was one of those games we were supposed to win.”

In her second year as head coach, Cram has worked on the Wolfpack tightly executing their defensive plans and converting that into offensive momentum. On Jan. 22, after a close first quarter, the navy-and-green clad Wolfpack went on a 12-0 spree in the second quarter, buoyed by back-to-back threes by Kaylee Fritz.

“When things start going your way, you can back down and cruise or put the foot on the gas and keep moving forward,” Cram said. “That’s what we’re striving for.”

In addition to Fritz’s threes, senior guard Kenzie Williams put up 11 points and had five steals, while senior Ellie Keller led both teams with 12 points and five assists.

Top Flathead scorers Maddy Moy and Clare Converse, both guards, were held to single-digit points.

Ellie Keller of the Glacier Wolfpack charges up the court against the Flathead Bravettes at Glacier High School in Kalispell on Jan. 22, 2021.The Wolfpack won 45-27. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Tudor said that some gaps in leadership might have played a bigger role than he anticipated, with senior Rebecca Eacker sitting the game out. He expects some of the younger girls to step up to fulfill scoring roles, as well as the few upperclassmen moving into leadership roles as the season progresses.

“Every game [with them] is exciting — Flathead is never a team we’ll count out,” Cram said. “I’m confident in a few weeks Coach Tudor will be looking to end our winning streak.”

Despite taking a loss, Tudor was still ecstatic about being on the sidelines for his first rivalry game and is eager for the Bravettes to be on their home court for the next matchup.

“It was fun,” Tudor said. “I’ve seen films from last year and seen how packed it can be, and it was definitely dampened with the pandemic, but it seemed as loud as ever.”

“There’s still definitely a different vibe about it, because after all, it’s crosstown.”

micah@flatheadbeacon.com

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