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Columbia Falls' loss to Butte Central left the Maroons as the lone girls' basketball champion across the small schools (Class A, B and C) from the West in 2016.

The good news for the Wildkats is they return three all-state seniors from their runner-up team. The bad news for Columbia Falls -- Butte Central has three all-state returners, too.

So it goes for the West, where tough divisions give way to even more fierce competition. No school from the West has won a Class B or Class C state title since Loyola Sacred Heart beat Baker in 2006.

But 2016-17 is a new season, and the West has plenty of promise.

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In Class A, Columbia Falls has the same potential to win a state title it did last season. Doing so will mean besting Butte Central, which beat the Kats (21-3 overall) both times they faced in the season.

"It's a very unusual situation when the two teams that are playing for the state championship game have three all-state players apiece," Columbia Falls coach Cary Finberg said. "But as far as our end goals, we're excited, obviously, with our returning kids."

C. Falls has size across its roster, and all three of the team's all-state players --  Kiara Burlage, Cydney Finberg and Peyton Kehr -- are 5-foot-11 or taller. The trio accounted for a combined 32 points per game last season, according to coach Finberg, and they had 51 in a win against Corvallis last Saturday.

The Kats got even richer in talent, too. Dani Douglas, who was 11th in Class A in scoring, according to leaguelineup.com/nwmta, transferred to Columbia Falls from Whitefish for her junior season.

In Frenchtown, a transfer student should also complement a Broncs team that returns four starters from a state qualifying squad a year ago.

Senior Shannon Worster, who averaged over 14 points per game and was all-state for Missoula Sentinel last year, will suit up this year for Frenchtown. She joins a squad with strong underclass players including, Alivia Williams, Kylie Willett and Emilie Hinrichs.

"Anytime you bring in an athlete that has the experience and skill that Shannon possesses, it's going to improve your chances, not only as a team, but it's going to make the girls on the team that much better," Frenchtown coach Jim Tolman said.

In the Southwest A, Hamilton is just two years removed from a state title, but the Broncs lost four starters from last year when they finished 8-13.

Stevensville (3-17 last season) is now under the tutelage of first-year head coach and Griz basketball great Jordan Hasquet.

Corvallis has a standout scorer in Corinne Sanderson, who averaged over 11 points per game last season (8-13).

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In Class B, rivals Florence and Loyola Sacred Heart have a big early season District 6-B matchup next Thursday in Florence. Last year, the Falcons finished second at the district tournament, with the Breakers taking fourth.

It was Loyola, though, that advanced to the state tournament out of the Western B Divisional, as the West’s No. 2 seed.

The Breakers return just one starter, but she’s a good one -- Tessa Burke.

“She definitely will be one of our major scorers and she’s also one of our major defensive stoppers, which is as important or even more important than her offensive capabilities,” second-year coach Betsy Cornelius said of her all-conference player.

Florence counters with an all-stater of its own in Danielle Zahn, a sophomore guard. She joins a talented bunch of girls who have already proven their prowess at shooting behind the arc. In a 67-48 win against Arlee last week, the Falcons hit six 3-pointers.

“We run drills where we have to shoot 45 percent from the twos and 35 percent from the threes and we keep going until we hit it,” Florence coach Duane Zeiler said. 

Ronan, though, is still the class of the conference until proven otherwise. The Maidens won District 6-B, and the Western B to earn the No. 1 seed at state. All-state post Lee Camel, who averaged 17 points per game, returns, as does Alicia Camel and Micalann McCrea, who had all-conference years for the Maidens a season ago.

In District 7-B, Bigfork, which took the West’s No. 3 seed at state last year, survived Eureka, 39-33 last week. Six-foot junior post Jaime Berg had 16 points in the Vals’ season opener, and she should play a big role in the team’s offense going forward.

***

In Class C, Arlee was just five points away from a state title appearance, which would have been a first for anyone from District 13-C or 14-C since Charlo in 2007.

The 65-60 loss to Box Elder fuels the Scarlets headed into 2016-17.

"The best thing that that did is it made us hungrier. When you're that close it's hard to not want it the next year," Arlee coach Bill Stockton said.

The Scarlets' strength is in the front court. Six-foot-1 Carly Hergett returns after an all-state year, as do all-conference posts, Bryndle Goyins and Alyssia Vanderburg.

That doesn’t mean the Scarlets will have an easy go getting back to the state tournament. Plains, which just missed the state tournament after falling to Seeley-Swan in a Western C challenge game, actually bested Arlee in both Distrct 14-C meetings a season ago.

Charlo is a powerhouse year in and year out, and coach Stockton also thinks St. Regis and its entire returning starting five should prove to be tough in conference.

And Seeley in District 13-C, which took the long road to the state tournament and an eventual fourth-place finish, should be there come playoff time yet again. The Blackhawks return four starters on a senior-laden team. Alex Bohlman leads the upperclass players after an all-state season.

 “Alex is our leader and quite an athlete," Seeley coach Shawn Holmes said. “...At the end of the year we’re still gonna be tough as nails if we all stay healthy."

***


Prep girls' basketball capsules

NORTHWEST A

COLUMBIA FALLS WILDKATS

Head coach: Cary Finberg (Montana Western, 1990), 93-23 in sixth year as girls coach; 25th year overall as a head coach

Last year's record: 21-3

Postseason: Second place at state

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: F Kiara Burlage*, sr., 6-0; G Cydney Finberg*, sr., 5-11; F Peyton Kehr*, sr., 5-11.

***

FRENCHTOWN BRONCS

Head coach: Jim Tolman (Montana, 1990), 240-128 in 16th year as head coach

Last year's record: 14-10

Postseason: State qualifier

Returning starters: 4

Players to watch: G Shannon Worster*, sr., Kylie Willett, jr., Allison Hochhalter, sr.

***

POLSON PIRATES

Head coach: Joe Quinn (Montana 1990), 7-14 in second year as head coach

Last year's record: 7-14

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: G Lauren Lefthand, sr., 5-8; P Mollie Fisher, sr., 6-0; W Mikayla Croft, sr., 5-5.

***

WHITEFISH BULLDOGS

Head coach: Ben Johnson

Last year's record: 7-14

Postseason: None

Returning starters: N/A

Players to watch: Becca Catina, jr., 5-10; Bella Wilson, jr., 5-10; Annisa Brown, jr., 5-8.

*returning all-state

***

SOUTHWEST A

BUTTE CENTRAL MAROONS

Head coach: Meg Murphy, 208-128 in 17th season as head coach

Last year's record: 24-0

Postseason: State champion

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: G Emily St. John*, Sr., G; Mollie Peoples*, Sr., F; Kloie Thatcher*, Jr.

***

CORVALLIS BLUE DEVILS

Head coach: Andy Knapp (Concordia University-Nebraska, 1995), 16-26 in third year as head coach

Last year's record: 8-13

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: G Corinne Sanderson, sr., 5-8; P Penny Jessop, sr., 5-10; P Genesis Keith, sr., 6-0.

***

DILLON BEAVERS

Head coach: Gabe Walker, in eighth season as head coach

Last year's record: 17-9

Postseason: Fourth place at state

Returning starters: 2

Players to watch: F Bailey Berriochoa, sr., 5-5; F Brynley Fitzgerald, jr., 5-10; G Kylie Christianson, sr., 5-7.

***

HAMILTON BRONCS

Head coach: Mark Albert (Montana, 1992), in ninth year as head coach of Hamilton, 17th overall

Last year's record: 8-13

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: G Reilly Rostad, sr., 5-6; P Rachael Ringer, sr., 5-8.

***

STEVENSVILLE YELLOWJACKETS

Head coach: Jordan Hasquet (Montana), first year with Stevensville

Last year's record: 3-17

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 5

Players to watch: G Makayla Davids, sr., G Megan Pendergast, jr., P Kayla Schmiedeke, jr.

*returning all-state

***

DISTRICT 6-B

ANACONDA COPPERHEADS

Head coach: Brian Evans (UM-Western), first year with Anaconda.

Last year's record: 4-16

Postseason: none

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: G Alexis Seitzinger, sr.; G Sydnie Peterson, jr.

***

DEER LODGE WARDENS

Head coach: Kirk Walker (Montana, 1997), 106-44 in seventh year as Deer Lodge coach, 14th year overall

Last year's record: 14-11

Postseason: Divisional qualifier 

Returning starters: 2

Players to watch: G Darcy Walker, jr., 5-7; G Rilee Gray, so., 5-6.

***

FLORENCE FALCONS

Head coach: Duane Zeiler, 20-26 in third year as head coach

Last year's record: 15-9

Postseason: Fourth at Western B Divisional

Returning starters: 4

Players to watch: G Darcy Walker, jr., 5-7; G Rilee Gray, so., 5-6.

***

LOYOLA SACRED HEART BREAKERS

Head coach: Betsy Cornelius (Xavier, Montana, Union College 2008, 2013), 19-9 in second year as head coach

Last year's record: 19-9

Postseason: State qualifier

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: G Tessa Burke*, jr., 5-8; F Kylie Esh, jr., 5-8; G Sydney Koppang, fr., 5-4.

***

RONAN MAIDENS

Head coach: Ron Hanson (Montana, 1988), 110-80 overall, in 2nd year as coach of Ronan; 10th overall as head coach

Last year's record: 21-4

Postseason: State qualifier

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: P Lee Camel*, sr., 5-10; P Alicia Camel, sr., 5-10; G Micalann McCrea, jr., 5-4.

***

ST. IGNATIUS BULLDOGS

Head coach: Jen Brander (UM Western, 1996), first year with St. Ignatius

Last year's record: 2-18

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: G Bryar McCrea, sr., 5-3; F Ran'Dee Charlo, sr., 5-6; F Leila Marsh, jr., 5-10.

*returning all-state

***

DISTRICT 7-B

BIGFORK VALKYRIES

Head coach: Jami Grende (Eastern Washington, 1995), 37-16 in third year as head coach

Last year's record: 18-8

Postseason: State qualifier

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: F Jaime Berg, jr., 6-0; F Abby Ellison, jr., 5-7; F Haile Norred, jr., 5-7.

***

EUREKA LIONS

Head coach: R.J. McDole, in fifth year as head coach

Last year's record: 8-14

Postseason: Divisional qualifier

Returning starters: 4

Players to watch: G Elizabeth Pacella, jr., 5-5; G Stacy Cooper, sr., 5-7; G Erynn Their, jr., 5-7.

***

LIBBY LOGGERS

Head coach: Wally Winslow (Montana, 1990), first year as head coach of Libby girls, 17th overall (162-179)

Last year's record: 11-12

Postseason: Divisional qualifier

Returning starters: 4

Players to watch: P Shannon Reny*, jr., 6-0; W Jayden Winslow, so., 5-10; P Abby Ennenga, sr., 5-11.

***

THOMPSON FALLS BLUEHAWKS

Head coach: Doree Thilmony, second year as head coach

Last year's record: 0-19

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: P Haley Wilson, sr., G Gillian Nelson, sr., Haley Morgan, jr.

***

TROY TROJANS

Head coach: Justin Young

Last year's record: 12-11

Postseason: Divisional qualifier

Returning starters: 5

Players to watch: G Allie Coldwell, jr., 5-8; P Aurora Becquart, jr., 5-10; P Alyssa Lewis, sr., 6-0.

*returning all-state

***

DISTRICT 12-C

DRUMMOND TROJANS

Head coach: Sara Wagner

Last year's record: 14-9

Postseason: Divisional qualifier

Returning starters: 4

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Players to watch: Addison Schindler, sr., Ahnna Goodrich, sr., Morgan Radtke, jr.

***

PHILIPSBURG PROSPECTORS

Head coach: Sarah Knutson (McHenry County College/Northern Illinois, 2012), 15-8 in second year as head coach

Last year's record: 15-8

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: W Jaden Comings, jr., 5-9; F Brooke Rouse, jr., 5-9.

***

DISTRICT 13-C

CLARK FORK MOUNTAIN CATS

Head coach: Jeff Schultz (UM Westen, 2008), 105-94 in 10th year as head coach

Last year's record: 12-10

Postseason: Third place at District 13-C

Returning starters: 2

Players to watch: G Rebecca Pluth, sr., 5-1; P Montanna Baughman, jr., 5-9; G Kenzie Mueller, jr., 5-8.

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DARBY TIGERS

Head coach: Hoop Reed, 6-10 in second year as head coach

Last year's record: 6-10

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: G Peuton Muir, jr., G Casey Ehmann, so., 5-6; G Nichole Slanger, sr., 5-4.

***

LINCOLN LYNX

Head coach: Dillon Krier (UM Western, 2009), in third year as head coach

Last year's record: 1-19

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 6

Players to watch: JeriLyn Dietz, jr., 5-8; Maggie Jorgensen, so., 5-3; Karissa Ninahuanca, jr., 5-3.

***

SEELEY-SWAN BLACKHAWKS

Head coach: Shawn Holmes (Western Montana, 1987), in 11th year as head coach of Seeley-Swan; 16th overall

Last year's record: 25-4

Postseason: Fourth place at state

Returning starters: 4

Players to watch: Alex Bohlman*, sr., Tessa Grimes, sr., Cera Strumpfer, sr.

***

VALLEY CHRISTIAN EAGLES

Head coach: Brent Reimer (Montana, 2002), first year at Valley Christian

Last year's record: 3-17

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 4

Players to watch: F Tara Messner, sr., 5-6; G Lilly Schulz, sr., 5-6; G Kaitlyn Kelly, so., 5-5.

***

VICTOR PIRATES

Head coach: Brooke Zeiler (UM Western, 2013), third year as head coach

Last year's record: 8-13

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 4

Players to watch: P Payton Tillotson, sr., 5-8; G Jamie Burdett, sr., 5-9; Ashley Hopper, so., 5-7.

*returning all-state

***

DISTRICT 14-C

ARLEE SCARLETS

Head coach: Bill Stockton (Montana, 2007), 55-18 in fourth year as head coach

Last year's record: 21-6

Postseason: State qualifier

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: G/F Carly Hergett*, sr., 6-1; P Bryndle Goyins, sr., 5-11; P Alyssia Vanderburg, so., 6-1.

***

CHARLO VIKINGS

Head coach: Bret Thompson (UM Western 1986), 528-185 in 31st year as head coach

Last year's record: 17-7

Postseason: Western C play-in

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: G Cheyenne Nagy*, sr., 5-7; F Sakoya Gaustan, jr., 5-8; G Kenzie Couture, sr., 5-6.

***

HOT SPRINGS SAVAGE HEAT

Head coach: Richard Jackson, first year with Hot Springs

Last year's record: 0-20

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 2

Players to watch: C Kayla Gielen, sr., 6-0; G Stacy Gray, jr., 5-3; G Karly Lawson, so., 5-4.

***

NOXON RED DEVILS

Head coach: Bart Haflich (Montana, 2006), second year at Noxon; 11th overall (132-120)

Last year's record: 7-13

Postseason: None

Returning starters: 3

Players to watch: G Kamber Torti, sr., 5-5; G Phalyn Fickas, jr., 5-5; P Cory Brodmerkle, jr., 6-0.

***

PLAINS TROTTERS

Head coach: Jessicay Nagy (UM Western, 2008), first year at Plains

Last year's record: 20-4

Postseason: Lost state challenge game

Returning starters: 1

Players to watch: F Jessica Thompson, jr., 6-0; G Linsey Laws, jr., 5-7; G Rachel Huenik, so., 6-1.

***

ST. REGIS TIGERS

Head coach: Brooks Sanford (Idaho), 12-10 in second year as head coach

Last year's record: 12-10

Postseason: Fourth place in District 14-C

Returning starters: 5

Players to watch: G Madison Hill, sr., F Courtney Cheesman, sr., G Anna Sanford, jr.

*returning all-state

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