Arlee Vanderburg

Alyssia Vanderburg, shown here at the State C girls basketball tournament in 2017, has helped lead Arlee to a 10-3 record and 9-0 mark in the 14C. 

MISSOULA – New coach, similar results.

That’s the way of life for the Arlee Scarlets. Just two years removed from a state runner-up finish, the Scarlets are now headed by 2004 grad Missy Tiensvold and sitting at 10-3 overall and 9-0 in the 14C.

Even with a new coach and change, expectations remained high for Arlee, and Tiensvold and the team have hit the ground running.

“I knew coming into the program that two years ago they were state runners-up and I know they have the ability to at least be that again,” Tiensvold said. “I knew coming in the expectations and growing up and going to school here, that’s always been the expectation.”

Arlee opened the season with two losses, including one to defending state champ Box Elder. That opened their eyes to what the state’s best have to offer. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 since and are currently riding a four-game winning streak.

The Scarlets have seven seniors on this year’s team, something Tiensvold said made transitioning into the job easier since the group is made up of veterans. Four of them start in Alyssia Vanderburg, Nellie Desjarlais, Noelle West and Louetta Conko-Camel. Junior Emily Fiddler rounds out the group.

Tiensvold coached in Tucson, Arizona, and at Mayville State in North Dakota before coming home to Arlee. Once she got back, she conducted team workouts to get the players used to her intensity. Then, once practice started, she asked them what their goals were. The players responded by saying they wanted to go to the state tournament and make some noise.

Not a bad situation to walk into.

“It’s kind of like a dream come true,” Tiensvold said. “It was kind of nice to come back and grow and show them where I’ve been and what I’ve done and to give back to the beginning for me.”

Big Sky hosts Western AA wrestling divisional

Hard to believe the high school state wrestling tournament is only one week away.

But that means divisional weekend is here, and Missoula Big Sky will play host to the Western AA tournament on Saturday. Big Sky, Sentinel, Hellgate, Helena Capital, Helena High, Kalispell Glacier and Kalispell Flathead will all be in attendance.

The Eagles are coming off of a performance at the Garden City Duals that saw them crowned as city champs. They placed sixth at the AA Duals in Great Falls two weeks ago, one spot behind Flathead, the only Western AA team ahead of them. So, expectations are high for Big Sky as it prepares to host this tournament before heading east to Billings for state.

“It’s kind of everything that we’ve been talking about the whole season,” Big Sky head coach Rick Moreno said. “We take it just like another tournament and match. Our focus has been to keep pushing forward. But the reality is and the kids and I know it is we’re just sharpening the sword (on Saturday). We’re taking the approach of relaxing mentally, working hard and focusing on ourselves."

Each team can take two wrestlers per weight class to the divisional tournament and the top eight in each class advance to the state tournament. Flathead comes in as the two-time defending state champs, but Moreno and his Eagles are flying under the radar, something they’re plenty happy to do.

“I don’t think we’re getting the respect in the coaches polls as far as the team and individual rankings, but hey, that’s fine, we don’t want to be on the radar,” Moreno said. “We’re right there. We can cause some damage here in February.”

Moreno, who is in his second year as Big Sky’s wrestling coach, said the team is looking for consistency as the season wraps up. But the buy-in from his team this year has him excited heading into the home stretch.

Weigh-ins for the divisional tournament are set for 9 a.m. at Big Sky. Matches are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

Eureka girls basketball off to historic start

The start of the season for the Eureka girls basketball team has the town and team feeling like it's 2006 all over again.

Not to jinx anything, but that was the last time the Lions made the Class B state tournament. But with an 11-2 start to this season, including 4-0 in the Western-7B to lead the conference, Eureka has plenty of reasons to be excited as postseason play rapidly approaches.

Eureka lost only two players a year ago and sports just two seniors — Sienna Utter and Michelle Leonard — on this year’s squad. Don’t be fooled by the team’s youth though. Eureka coach Ryan Holder says a lot of his underclassmen have been getting experience since the minute they walked onto campus.

“They’re experienced and really athletic and a hard-working group and so they’ve been getting after it,” Holder said. “We had a good season last year but couldn’t quite get over that hump in close games and against really tough competition. This year they’ve just kind of gelled together and are just playing great.”

Defense has been the team’s strength, according to Holder. He says there is still plenty of areas to improve, but that effort on the defensive end coupled with an up-tempo style on the offensive side of the ball has carried the Lions to this start.

Holder said Utter is scoring about 16 points per game as the team’s leading scorer. Junior Maggie Graves is almost averaging a double-double at 11 points and nine rebounds per contest. Junior Megan Hanson is the team’s point guard and facilitates the floor for the team, averaging six points and six assists per game. Juniors Avory Escobar and Karlee Frost round out the starting five. Holder added that Eureka has four sophomores who contribute off the bench.

Utter has been a four-year starter and is closing in on 1,000 career points for Eureka. Graves has started since she was a freshman as well.

The Lions are currently on an eight-game winning streak, the school’s best in at least the last 15 years. But the Western B only has two spots at divisionals that advance to the state tournament. So with Eureka, Florence, Missoula Loyola and Deer Lodge, the Western B divisional tournament will be a grind.

“They’re just a fun group and they’re willing to do whatever I ask of them. We’re just going to keep working and getting better and whatever happens, happens,” Holder said. “I think these girls will be ready to roll when that time does come around.”

Future Griz scores 1,000th career point

Noah Ambuehl’s future may be on the gridiron, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t thriving on the court.

The senior at Great Falls Central need just two points to hit the 1,000-point milestone for his career in Saturday’s game against Cascade. He scored 26, and became the school’s first to cross that threshold since it reopened in 2000.

“It meant a lot to me to do it at home in front of the people that have supported this team and me so much,” Ambuehl said. “It was a great moment. It was honestly a relief to see the ball go through the hoop for 1,000. Cascade was playing some hard defense on me and after that shot went in I caught a rhythm. It was a moment I won’t forget.”

Great Falls Central went on to win that game 76-59 to continue its dominant season to improve to 12-1 on the year and 10-1 in the 10-C. Ambuehl, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, signed with Montana’s football team back in the early signing period. He is listed as a tight end.

But for now, the focus is on his final months of high school basketball.

“We have been off to a great start with a couple setbacks here and there. But I think what makes this team work is the chemistry,” Ambuehl said. “We have been playing together for four years now and we know what each other are capable of. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We work really hard and work well together as well.”

Kyle Hansen covers Griz men's basketball and more for the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. Email him at kyle.hansen@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @khansen406

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