It's a fresh start for the Drummond girls' basketball team.
Sure, the Trojans have been to state before - once last decade and six times in the 1990s - but this decade is different. The 2010 version of head coach Mike Bradshaw's program is making its first ever trip to Great Falls, which hosts the State C girls' tournament beginning Thursday at the Four Seasons Arena.
"We've been a lot of places around the state, but we've never been there," said Bradshaw, who is finishing up his 32nd year of coaching girls' basketball in Drummond. "We'll see what it's like when we get there."
The No. 8 Trojans are making their first trip to state since 2005, when they went 0-2 at the Belgrade Special Events Center. Their six trips in the '90s netted one state championship ('92 at Billings) and a fourth-place finish ('99 at Missoula).
It's been a long time coming for the Trojans (22-3) since then, but some say its been an even longer road for Drummond's first-round opponent Fairview, which sits on the North Dakota border just north of Sidney. The second-ranked Warriors (24-0) are one of two unbeaten teams in the field this week. Top-ranked Harlowton-Ryegate (24-0) is the other.
Fairview, the Eastern C champion, and Drummond, a challenge game winner out of the Western C, tip off at 8 p.m. on the first day of the tournament. The Warriors last made state in 1990.
"From what I know of them, they do have some experience, some size inside and a real good guard in Morgan Klose," Bradshaw said. "It looks like they'll be good."
Fairview also features senior post players Katie Hardy and Stephanie Murphy, who was an all-state player for Charlo coach Bret Thompson the past two seasons, before transferring across state.
The Vikings, of course, are who the Trojans had to knock off to get into state. They beat Charlo 31-24 in the challenge game at Valley Christian High School in Missoula on March 1. Twin Bridges (19-2), which opens at state against Eastern C runner-up Saco-Whitewater, beat Charlo in the Western C championship game, which enabled the Trojans to challenge.
"Bret likes to run that man-to-man defense," said Bradshaw of his coaching colleague. "It's always one of those dog fights when you play him. A real defensive battle. Nobody could get anything going offensively."
Defense is definitely on Drummond's side this season.
The Trojans are holding opponents to 29.9 points per game while scoring 52.8 points per game. They're only losses this year have all come in overtime games.
"Our strength is our defense," Bradshaw said, "it's kept us in games when had a slow start or a bad quarter."
The Trojans are led by senior guard Brianna Jesse, who averages 12.0 points per game, but Drummond's four other starters all average around seven points per game. Jesse scored 20 points in the challenge game and had 14, 18 and 20 in the final three games at divisionals - all elimation games.
"We're pretty balanced, but (Jesse) does lead us," Bradshaw said, "and we needed all of her points in that tournament, that's for sure."
The other starters for the Trojans are senior forward MJ Monroe, juniors Emilie Angelo and Jessi Dahl and sophomore guard Ayla Martell. Angelo is the team's tallest starter at 6-foot and second-leading scorer at 7.8 ppg, while Dahl (5-9) and reserves Kelsey Allen (6-0) and Kenzi Bradshaw (5-10), both sophomores, also add height.
"We have a tough first game, and every game beyond that is tough," Bradshaw said. "You don't know much about these teams before you get to state. We'll get to look at them for the first time on that first day. Then we'll just go from there."
Notes: Two-time defending State C girls' champ Highwood did not make state this season. Harlowton opens against third-ranked Belt (21-2).