The first day of the two-day Native American Classic basketball tournament on Friday was a learning experience for the Arlee boys. The State C championship rematch Saturday against Box Elder was about something else for the Warriors.
“The second night going into (the game against Box Elder) it was really cool the poise that was in the locker room, the focus,” Arlee coach Zanen Pitts said. “You could just tell; it was a completely different team from the (Friday) to that night. They were locked on.
“You could tell it was about – I don’t want to say revenge, that’s not really the word – but it was all about getting back what that program took.”
That would be a first-place trophy. Last year, Box Elder beat Arlee 95-73 in the state title game. This year, in front of a similar atmosphere – raucous fans that filled the gym in Havre – Arlee earned some redemption.
Although the season is still early for the undefeated Warriors (3-0 overall), the 85-63 win on Saturday night was big going forward.
“… To have them matched up with teams like that it’s cool,” Pitts said of the tournament. “You’re a coach of these small schools and then you watch ESPN and you watch Kentucky play Indiana or you watch Kansas open up with Duke in these early preseason games, and you’re like, man, why can’t we get anything like that? And we finally got it.
“And this could be the difference, because the team now, they’re hungry, they’re really hungry.”
The Warriors win against the Bears came after a close one to Hays-Lodgepole on Friday. Even more fans packed the place on Day 1, according to Pitts, and some of Arlee’s younger players may have been a little wide-eyed.
“That first night the young guys, you could tell they kind of struggled – It was exciting and everyone kind of just over played,” Pitts said of his team's eventual 67-56 win. “... And (Hays-Lodgepole) is tough – they’re stinking good.”
Fortunately the Warriors were able to rely on the cool and steady hands of senior Tyler Tanner and junior Phillip Malatare. According to maxpreps.com, the two all-staters combined for 50 points in the win, with Tanner holding the edge at 26.
On Saturday, some of the young guns showed up.
Sophomore Greg Whitesell led all scorers with 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting, according to Arlee’s MaxPreps page. Tanner scored 23 and Malatare had 14, sure, but junior Will Mesteth added another seven points and led his team in rebounds with seven.
And it came against the defending champs.
“Will Mesteth has never played high school ball. Greg Whitesell – he’s just a sophomore that didn’t see a lot of minutes because there’s so many seniors,” Pitts said. “It was just really neat to watch them come together.”
If Arlee is already gelling after Game 3, that can mean good things for the rest of the season.
“We have a long road ahead of us,” Pitts said. “Our whole thing, every practice is no distractions. Let’s just stay focused and have no distractions.”
MCA announces Montana's fall coaches of the year
Eight Western Montana coaches were named Coach of the Year in their respective fall sports when the Montana Coaches Association released its award winners Monday.
Missoula Sentinel's Erin Keffeler received the Class AA volleyball Coach of the Year award after her Spartans capped a perfect season with a state title win against Billings Senior in November.
Columbia Falls' Jessy Matthews was named Class A's top volleyball coach thanks to similar results – an undefeated season and a first-place trophy.
In football, Hot Springs' Jim Lawson head-manned his team to a perfect season and State C 6-man title. The Savage Heat outscored their opponents 880-79 over the course of the season.
Eureka's Trevor Utter was named Coach of the Year in Class B football. He won, in part, thanks to overseeing his team's improbable last-second Hail Mary touchdown that snatched the Class B state title from Loyola Sacred Heart.
Dillon's Rick Nordahl in Class A and Ennis' Christopher Hess in 8-man also earned football Coach of the Year honors.
Hamilton's Owen Burch coached his Broncs and senior Max Toenjes to championships at State A boys' golf. The Hamilton coach gets to add a Coach of the Year award to the shelf now, too.
Frenchtown's Dennis Normand also took home a Coach of the Year award after his boys edged Corvallis at the State A cross country meet.
Whitefish HS set to induct 2 into Hall of Fame
Donnie Bestwick and Mac McCracken are slated to be inducted into the Whitefish high school Hall of Fame on Friday at halftime of the varsity boys' basketball game against Bigfork.
Both McCracken and Bestwick have been involved with youth sports programs in Whitefish, and the two have volunteered their time to help support Whitefish athletics.
The two join a list of 63 former inductees, including Rep. Ryan Zinke.