MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel sophomore Challis Westwater had an adrenaline rush when she heard her name during the pregame introductions ahead of her first varsity start.
She and the Class AA Spartans, though, were lacking energy early in their season opener when they found themselves in a 10-10 tie with Class A Stevensville in the second quarter.
“We had a timeout where we talked and really just decided to shut them down on D and decided they weren’t a team that could beat us like that,” Westwater said. “When it was tied up, we just started kicking it into high gear.”
Sentinel responded by stifling Stevensville with a dominant defensive showing that led to easy baskets on the way to a 70-23 win on Friday at Sentinel High School.
The Spartans held Stevensville to just nine field goals in the game, including five in the final 23 minutes as they closed the game on a 60-13 run. They forced 18 turnovers, including 13 steals.
“We got more aggressive,” Sentinel head coach Karen Deden said. “I thought in the first quarter until midway through the second quarter, they were matching our speed up and down the court. I think we were able to maintain the speed, and that was the deal breaker.”
Westwater nearly recorded a triple-double in her first start, tallying 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. The 6-foot-2 forward added one steal and one block.
Junior forward Lexi Deden similarly filled up the stat sheet, collecting 17 points, five steals, four rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
Ashley McElmurry added 11 points, and Maggie Weida had 10 for a team that was expecting to be young before it lost Lady Griz signee Shelby Schweyen for an undetermined period of time after she underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, according to Karen Deden. The Spartans graduated seven seniors from last year’s state runner-up team, including current Lady Griz players Jordyn Schweyen and Kylie Frohlich.
“I think this is going to be very motivational for us in the future, especially scoring 70 points when we had most of our bench in the game,” Westwater said.
Stevensville, on the other hand, was coming off a 3-17 season. The Yellowjackets, led by first-year head coach Alycia (Sims) Harris, a former Lady Griz forward, have only three upperclassmen who are expected to play regularly.
Senior Angel Richards, who signed to play volleyball at Dakota College at Bottineau, paced Stevensville with eight points and six rebounds but was held scoreless in the second half Freshman Maliyah LeCoure added seven points.
The Yellowjackets struggled with Sentinel’s full-court press in the opening minutes as they fell down 10-2. They started to solve it and scored eight straight points to knot the score at 10-10 with a bucket in the opening minute of the second quarter.
The Spartans switched up their press, responded with an 8-0 run and led 25-15 with 2:06 left in the quarter.
“Our wheels just started coming off,” Harris said. “We came out playing hard, and it gave us a lot of hope for what can be this year. We just really need to ramp up the intensity so that we can play like that for a full game.”
Sentinel emphasized post touches even more and built a 40-15 lead in the third quarter. The Spartans held Stevensville scoreless for 8:20, not allowing a point until there was 1:46 left in that frame.
Sentinel led 45-20 after three quarters and outscored Stevensville 25-3 in the fourth.
“We were getting open looks and weren’t knocking them down and I think that sucked some confidence out of us,” Harris said. “They’re big, and they crash the boards hard, so they got second chances when we didn’t box out well because we were getting tired. Once they were rolling, it was hard for us to put the foot down and get a stop.”