The Arlee girls' basketball team doesn't need to look far for inspiration heading into the State C tournament this week in Great Falls.
Some don't even need to leave home to find it and others need look no further than the hallways at Arlee High School. Or for that matter, around town, where signs and balloons wish the Scarlets and Warriors good luck at state.
The Warriors, of course, made it all the way to the state finals last week before falling to Box Elder in the title game of the boys' tournament.
The Scarlets practiced last Thursday, then headed to Great Falls along with most of the rest of Arlee to watch the Warriors at Four Seasons Arena.
"One thing, we have several brother-sister combos, so they were there with that intent too, not just as a student, but as a family member," Arlee coach Bill Stockton said. "I think after winning the divisional they had a lot more confidence anyway, and going to see the boys play in the same exact gym we’re going to be in, seeing the atmosphere the state tournament brings, I think all of that kind of fed into their confidence and it should help us."
The Western C Divisional champion Scarlets (20-4) will be joined at state by District 13-C champ Seeley-Swan (24-2). Arlee opens at 12:30 p.m. Thursday against Medicine Lake-Froid, while the Blackhawks get into action at 8 p.m. against Plentywood.
The Scarlets have gotten the job done with their defense, which is aided by their size. Alyssia Vanderburg, a 6-foot freshman, has blossomed in the post and is joined in the starting five by 5-11 Bryndle Goyins, 6-1 Carly Hergett, 5-8 Morgan Malatare and 5-6 guard Becca Whitesell.
"The only position that we’re not real tall at is our guard position and the guard we do have there makes up for that with her ability to run the offense real well and play really great on-ball defense," Stockton said of Whitesell. "She was an all-stater last year and has that experience, then we have two girls who are 6-feet tall and another two who are 5-11. That length is just really hard to score against. In the divisional championship we held Plains to six points in the first half. I think that’s been our strength, to play defense in the half court and to not give a lot of offensive rebounds to our opponents."
Arlee's strength will be matched by that of Medicine Lake-Froid.
"It looks like they also have a couple of tall girls, so it looks like they’ll match up with our size a little better than some of our opponents have," Stockton said. "They have a 6-1 freshman and a 5-11 senior post, so they have a little size. They have two other 5-8 guards who are pretty talented players."
In an interesting coincidence, Arlee could face Box Elder, the team that beat the Warriors in the finals, in the semifinals on Friday.
"This hasn’t happened a lot for Arlee," Stockton said. "The girls haven’t been to state since 1982. The community has been pretty supportive. The fact that both the boys and girls won divisionals, it’s been pretty exciting."
Seeley-Swan took the scenic route to state, needing to come back through the losers' bracket at the divisional and then win a challenge game the following Monday.
"It was great for us," Seeley coach Shawn Holmes said of the one-week break between divisionals and state. "We had that five games in five days with that play-in on Monday last week. They were pretty exhausted. We used last week to break it up a little bit, rest up and get healthy."
The Blackhawks have star power in senior Paige Holmes, the team leader in many categories. But she has a strong supporting cast that goes 10 deep.
"It’s been the whole team, being able to go deep into the bench whenever we need to and not drop off any down to 10 deep has really been a strength," Holmes said. "The girls come out and contribute every night, all of them do.
"Delaney (Holzworth) and Alex (Bohlman) had a huge game against Twin Bridges in the consolation game, then Paige had a huge game Saturday morning against Ennis. We’re getting points from everybody."
Both Holmes and Stockton agree that Belt should be considered the favorite heading into the tournament. The Huskies had won three straight state titles before Gardiner ended that run last season.
"There’s two teams coming in undefeated – Broadview-Lavina out of the South and Plentywood out of the East – but even with those two teams I think Belt is probably the top pick," Stockton said.