What can be made of two one-possession wins on back-to-back days in the early season for a young team?
"It says that they're learning what they're capable of," Missoula Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said.
Jagelski's Spartans, who returned only one starter from last season, have jumped out to a 3-1 start to the 2014-15 boys' basketball season and pushed above .500 late last week with a pair of gritty wins.
First on Thursday they withstood a Corvallis fourth-quarter charge to sneak out of the Bitterroot Valley with a 59-58 victory. The next day Sentinel again outlasted its opponent, this time Great Falls CMR in a game that wouldn't fit into four regulation quarters.
Sentinel prevailed 67-65 in triple overtime.
"They play really, really hard; They're a young team, but they've really learned to persevere already," said Jagelski, now in his third season at the helm at Sentinel.
This team is gaining confidence as it headed into a two-week holiday break – Sentinel's next task, another tough one, is the Western AA league opener at Kalispell Glacier next Friday – but the coach saw it all building long before the marathon with the Rustlers.
"I noticed it from Game 1," Jagelski said, referring to Setinel's season-opening loss against Eastern AA front-runner Billings West on Dec. 12.
"I started to notice it even back against West. We were up in the third quarter and I think the boys learned what they could do. ... They kinda see where their potential lies."
Sentinel's solid start, which also featured a win over Billings Senior, exists as much because of that one returning starter as the myriad new faces piling up major minutes.
Senior guard Zaccheus Darko-Kelly scored 21 in the CMR win and has grown as an outside shooter since last season. He had 23 the night before down at Corvallis, including five 3-pointers.
Fellow seniors Travis Zander and Jeff Krstulich have added important leadership, Jagelski said, and young guns like sophomores Mitch Roberts and Griffin Line have brought the energy. Juniors John Mitchell and Mitch Reynolds fill out the team's top rotation.
And as exciting basketball as Sentinel has played so far this season and as much as the Spartans are learning from their close games, Jagelski sees plenty of room to improve.
Like how to avoid the mistakes that help keep some of these games close in the first place.
"Our offensive execution, we've just got to learn how to play through certain situations," Jagelski noted.
And a little more late-game magic would certainly help.
Two Eagle soaring
Four wins would make for a pretty decent season for the Two Eagle River girls' basketball team in recent years. Heck, the Eagles finished winless or didn't field a program five times in the last decade.
So when Two Eagle started its 2014-15 hoops campaign 4-0, there were plenty of good feelings up in Pablo.
First-year TER coach Erica Shelby has been blessed with one of the most talented groups to come through the Class C school in a long time. Two Eagle brought back all five starters from last year and has a corps of four seniors.
"We're trying to play some fundamental basketball and get everybody caught up to that same level," said Shelby, a 2001 Ronan High grad. "We've put a lot on our starters. Casadi and Tyra really showed their leadership so far."
That's Casadi Wunderlich and Tyra Michel, two from that senior group that also includes Misty Mendoza and Jax Wright.
Two Eagle ran into its first defeat Tuesday against District 14-C power Charlo, though that's hardly the first spat of adversity for these players. The school's girls and boys have to share practice space, meaning just a half court to work on at the Two Eagle gym.
It's an uphill battle for Shelby and her assistant Amy Stiffarm, a former Salish Kootenai College player, to mold many of the girls into technical players with a team-oriented approaches. Most of them are more familiar with pick-up style basketball.
The team is still improving and Shelby sees plenty to work on after the Charlo defeat.
"This loss, honestly, couldn't have come at a better time," said Shelby, whose team will get some practice time in a full gym at SKC over the holiday break. "Shows us what we need to work on on this long break right here."
Tech signs Missoula gridders
Montana Tech announced its first football signings from the class of 2015 Tuesday, a group of 10 that includes two Missoulians.
Sentinel defensive back Jackson King and Big Sky offensive lineman Matt Murphy will play for the NAIA program in Butte after graduation. Murphy was first team all-state while King was an honorable mention at kick returner.
Among the other six Montanans on the list were some prep standouts from the northwest corner of the state including Truman Pisk (Kalispell Glacier), Tucker Rauthe (Glacier) and Ike Schweikert (Columbia Falls).
Morley joins Team USA
Fresh from the national championships in San Diego, 2014 Foot Locker Cross Country finalist Makena Morley of Bigfork is getting a chance to run on an even bigger stage.
Morley and four others will compete for the United States at the 2015 Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country Race in Scotland in January.
The senior race will feature other top finishers from this year like Anna Rohrer, the 2012 and 2014 Foot Locker national champion, Elijah Armstrong, Olin Hacker and Ryen Frazier. The'll be joined by other past Foot Locker finalists in Europe.
Morley took third at nationals two weeks ago behind Rohrer and Frazier. Hacker and Armstrong went 2-3 in the boys' national race.
The Bupa Great international cross country competition will take place Jan. 10.
Flathead coaches step down
Kalispell Flathead is searching for a pair of coaches after two of the school's fall sports season program leaders resigned this month.
Leon Wilcox is out as head volleyball coach after eight seasons and Dan Ferguson also stepped down as Braves head boys' soccer coach after two years on the job.
Wilcox took the Bravettes to the State AA volleyball tournament in each of his seasons at the helm, their best placing a silver in 2012. His team was 14-12 last season.
Ferguson's team improved from a one-win season in his first year as head coach to three wins last year. One of those happened to come in the Western AA playoffs that sent Flathead to the State AA soccer tournament. The Braves were 3-12 overall.
Wilcox stepped down to spend more time with his family and Ferguson has resigned after accepting a director position for a youth soccer program in Virginia, according to Flathead activities director Bryce Wilson.