High school winter sports are officially underway as basketball, wrestling, and swimming are the next three sports on deck for the 2016-2017 athletic season. The Great Falls High boys and girls basketball teams didn't hesitate to get their seasons started.
The Lady Bison held their first practice today. The Great Falls High girl's squad lost by one point in last year's championship game to the Bozeman Hawks in the Class AA State Title game. The Lady Bison are entering the 2016-2017 season with a chip on their shoulder. This year, they have a new group of seniors leading the team and they're ready to prove what they can do. Coaches and players agree that team bonding is the first thing for them to work on.
"We'll really have to work on some of the younger kids being able to contribute at the varsity level and then some of the older kids starting where they left off last year," said head coach Jerry Schmitz. "You have to develop that team cohesiveness and unity."
"We're a really big family here," said senior shooting guard Sarah Dutro. "We have a really close team so i guess just show you are a good role model and make sure that when you're at basketball you're here to work. Like let's go. Make your shots."
On the boy's side, the Bison are also starting anew. Great Falls High made it into the Class AA State Tournament last year, but lost early on. Great Falls High will be led by Gatorade Player of the Year and Eastern Washington Commit - Brendan Howard. While the bison are just now getting their teams together and getting their kinks smoothed out, players say they don't want to waste any time during practice and they already have one main goal in mind.
"Well we just wanna make sure we play well during the season and get better every game and get the state tournament," said head coach Bob Howard. "Everyone's goal is to win the state championship."
"I'm just trying to work hard and help my team win a state championship," said senior forward Brendan Howard. "That's been my goal since I was little and it's been my goal since I was a freshman and every other year. I'm just out here trying to win a state championship and be successful with our team."
The Bison boy's and girl's basketball teams will open their seasons in just two weeks on December 2nd. The girls will host the Helena High Lady Bengals at home at 7:30 PM, and the boys will travel to Helena to face the Bengals at 7:30 PM as well.
In Helena, both the Helena High and Capital boy's basketball teams opened practiced today. The Bengals are coming off a fourth place finish in the Class AA State Tournament last year. Capital's season ended in a loss to Helena High at state. Both teams are in rebuilding mode, as Bruins head coach Guy Almquist and Bengals head coach John Hollow say they're only returning one starter from last year's team, so they're definitely using basketball tryouts as a way to rebuild both of their programs.
"You know, I don't think it ever gets any easier," said Coach Hollow. "This stuff gets easier because you've been their and done it before. Tryouts are never fun you're going to shatter some kids dreams and that's never fun. We're looking for two things those players that are highly skilled and those players that are highly competitive."
"If you're highly skilled and you're not competitive that won't work here and if you're competitive and not skilled that's tougher," said Coach Almquist. "You might have a chance to fill the need but that's tougher too."
The Capital Bruins boy's basketball team will host CMR for their season opener at home on December 2nd. Tipoff is at 7:30. And the Capital girl's basketball team opens the season on the road, same day and time. They'll play at CMR High School.
At CMR - the Lady Rustlers are ready to start fresh after not making it to the state tournament last year. Although the Rustlers lost five seniors and three starters last season, players and coaches are confident that the leadership role will fall into good hands.
"They're pretty talented so that's a good place to start," said head coach Brian Crosby. "They can step in pretty quickly. Last year we lost some seniors but did play quite a lot of sophomores and juniors. They're a pretty good crew so I think they'll be able to jump in right away."
"We're all kind of leaders. We've all been in this varsity position before and are ready to step in," said senior guard Zuzu Rudio. "We have all been in a leadership roles. If we all come together and do our jobs we'll be able to get a lot done."
And over on the boys side, the Rustlers are also starting out with mostly new faces. CMR only has two returning starters, and they're introducing lots of underclassmen and transfers that are getting up to par, but the Rustlers are hoping they can get to the state tournament for the first time since 2013 by making some changes to how they execute during games.
"What's going to be different is we're going to work on being a physical team," said head coach John Cislo. "We really have not been a physical team these last few years. Our kids are a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger than previous teams we've had. We need to be physical. We've gotta go to the boards and get rebounds. We've gotta be hard nosed on defense. And if we can do those things, then we're gonna have a chance against anybody."
"It's kind of been a rebuilding period for CMR," said senior point guard Xavier Pace. "We're just kind of showing off that the rebuilding has worked and just trusting the process and showing everybody that we're ready to contend."