Western A teams fight uphill battle

Western A teams fight uphill battle

State Class A girls' basketball tournament

Girls' basketball teams at Libby, Bigfork and Stevensville survived what might've been the toughest, most competitive, most grueling Western A season ever.

The reward? Certified underdog status heading into the state Class A tournament, which runs Thursday through Saturday at Montana State-Billings. When you come from a division that has produced just one state champ (Ronan, 1992) in 14 years, every game shapes up as a struggle.

"We might be overlooked a little bit, and that could be to our advantage," said Libby coach Jim May, whose Loggers claimed their second straight Western A title with a 41-37 win over Bigfork.

"I know this -I'd sure rather be driving to Billings than staying home," said Bigfork coach Don Faris.

Bigfork faces a tremendous defensive challenge in the tournament opener against defending champ Havre and its star guard, Loree Payne. The 6-foot senior has 2,211 career points and ranks second behind only Philipsburg's Carla Beattie, who scored 2,508 points in 1987-90.

"You're not going to stop her," Faris said. "Hopefully, we can slow her down."

Bigfork's best defender, sophomore Amanda Emslie, will likely see plenty of Payne. The Vals may also try a gadget defense of some kind, such as a box-and-one.

Payne rates alongside Karen Deden of Missoula Sentinel and Shannon Cate of Billings Central as the best high-school players Montana has produced. Like Deden, Payne spurned offers from a number of colleges, including the Montana Lady Griz, to sign with Washington of the Pac-10 Conference.

Stevensville's task is no less daunting in the other afternoon game. The Yellowjackets, known for their tough zone defense, face a Miles City team that has won 17 straight games with fierce man-to-man pressure. Stevensville guard Sarah Miller is questionable because of a knee injury suffered at the divisional tournament. That shifts a bit more of the scoring burden to center Heather Seyfert and guard Ellie Tuck.

"Our defense will have to keep us close," said Stevi coach Terry Rosin.

Libby opens against Dillon, which at 10-12 sports the worst record in the field. Dillon, however, played four of its best games all season to place third at the Central A tournament.

"I think we match up pretty well, but we have to take care of the ball," May said. "Dillon thrives on turnovers."

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