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For years to come, fans at the Florence high school gym will be hearing something brought about by a senior on this year's girls' basketball team.

Danielle Zahn has made sure of that.

Her senior project was to raise $6,000 to outfit the gym with a new sound system. Wednesday night, along with fellow senior Joey Janetski — raising money for a golf cart to help future football managers — the two employed a bit of fundraising bingo at a local bar and restaurant to close in on the total needed.

"Two of the speakers don't even work (currently)," said Zahn, a returning all-stater, who headlines a tough and talented senior squad. "It's nice to give back to the school for all the times I've played here."

It's Zahn's — and the rest of her senior-laden squad's — hope, that the town of Florence may hearing about this team for years to come, too. 

***

Last year, Florence seemed poised to make some noise at the Class B state tournament. The Falcons were the District 6-B regular season champions with a perfect 8-0 conference record, and they finished the year 20-2 overall.

One of those losses, though, came to Deer Lodge at the Western B divisional tournament, and the 36-32 upset win by the Wardens effectively kept Florence from even qualifying for the state tournament.

"...It’s one of those things, I’ll never forget losing that game. You could lose hundreds of games, but one like that is just tough to lose," Florence coach Duane Zeiler said. "“...It makes them a little hungrier this year, though. They know they can’t just walk in there and be in the state tournament.

"...My daughter was the only senior last year, it was tough on her. The other girls had next year, but they can’t always say that. Now it’s their last year and they gotta make it happen.”

If the offseason workouts have been any indicator, then the Florence girls are ready to make a run.

"Every open gym, the four of us have been here," returning all-conference forward Makenna Liles said, pointing out Zahn, Janetski and another all-conference forward, Rilee Mangun. "We've put a lot of time in this gym."

Liles added that the extra time on the court didn't just start this offseason, either. The quartet has been at it since elementary school. A fifth senior, Tori Foster, was there then, too. The transfer student from Missoula Sentinel, now playing for Florence, has had the opportunity to see the work her teammates have put in from multiple perspectives.

"They're really good players and make me better. Not playing for three years makes things kind of hard, but they're just great girls, have great attitudes and they make me love the game even more," Foster said. 

Florence also receives a boon from Janetski, a 6-foot-2 senior who has been sidelined for a majority of her underclass years with injury. The post has stayed close to Falcon athletics by serving as Florence's football manager for all four years, hence the desire to give back to future football managers for her senior project.

Coach Zeiler expects her to be a force down low, and thinks she has a shot to play college basketball along with Liles, Mangun and Zahn, who are already receiving next-level buzz.

"She’s an awesome kid and I’m glad she’s back and I’m glad she’s healthy this year," Zeiler said of Janetski. It was hard for her, frustrating to sit on the bench when she should have been out there."

Staying healthy, as it is for all teams, will be a big factor for the Falcons, too. Along with Janetski's injuries to her knee and shoulder, Zahn has twice torn her ACL. The all-state guard wears a bulky knee brace on the court that serves as a grim reminder.

"Just training without it helps, so when I do put the brace on, I feel way more confident, and I know the brace is there for extra support," Zahn said. 

And the Florence senior has every right to feel confident — she's been among the state's best players even while fighting the mental toll an injury of that magnitude can take.

The Falcons also have depth this season. Coach Zeiler said 26 girls are out for basketball, including a freshman class of 15. He added that this year's seniors have a lot to do with the turnout.

"Last year, you know, we were pretty much playing (our five starters) all the time. They played all 32 minutes sometimes last year," Zeiler said. "There’s going to be two or three (freshmen) giving the seniors a break, which we need that." 

The Falcons — from senior to freshman — will be put to the test right out of the gate Friday and Saturday at the Sidney Tip-Off tournament, however. Florence opens the season Friday with Belt, winners of the Class C state tournament five of the past seven years. The Falcons then take on Malta, a perennial Class B powerhouse, that last won state in 2016.

On Tuesday, they host Loyola Sacred Heart in a big early District 6-B rivalry game.

"We play (some) great programs, and we're not going to be ashamed of how we come home," Zeiler said. "... We’re going to find out where we stack up.

"But I know we should be at the top of the pile come the end of the season."

Florence fans should like the sound of that.

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