BILLINGS – In 10 seasons under coach Jeff Graham, the average record for the Belt Huskies girls basketball team is 25-3.
The average season, it seems, also sees the Huskies playing for the Class C state title, and more often than not, winning it. Belt has won five of the last six championships, and despite graduating three seniors from last year’s 26-1 title team, another ‘average’ season might be in store for the Huskies.
“I think you’ll see the same up-tempo that we’ve had, but we probably have our tallest team that we’ve had since my first year here,” said Graham, who returns starters Dani Urick and Adrian Malek. “It’s kind of weird, so I’ll have to adjust a little bit there, but just the same good group of kids. They play hard, they get after it, so it should be another fun year.”
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves with the Huskies, we’ll note that many of last year’s state-tournament teams will maintain their saltiness, as well.
Arlee, last year’s runner-up by falling 62-33 to Belt in the championship game, and third-place Twin Bridges have key returning players out West, including the Falcons’s Kailee Oliverson, who will play at the University of Nevada next season. Ennis could make some noise there, too.
Six-foot-1 junior Alyssia Vanderburg returns to Arlee with an all-state award in tow, too.
In the East, Froid-Medicine Lake, a fourth-place team a year ago, has plenty of height and experience returning as does Savage, another team in the tournament field that was built largely on youth a year ago.
State-tournament spots from the South could be up for grabs, though Harlowton, a state rep last season, looks to have an inside track on returning. There will be several teams looking to run down the Engineers, however.
Roy-Winifred, a semifinalist at state last year, returns three starters in the North. But the Outlaws could see challenges from the likes of Box Elder, Winnett-Grass Range, Hobson-Moore-Judith Gap, Fort Benton and Great Falls Central, who all have quality starters returning as they look to takes the next step beyond districts and divisionals.
You can talk about state all you want, but it’s that North division, where Belt resides, that has Graham’s immediate attention.
“In the past five years, just getting out of the North is a pretty good feat for yourself, but I think that’ll be tough,” he said, noting eight of the last 10 state champions have come from that division. “Box Elder and Fort Benton will be really good this year. Winnett-Grass Range, Winifred and Tri-Cities (H-M-JG) will all be really good so we’ll have our work cut out for us in our district.”
Lindsay Rossmiller contributed to this story.