BUTTE — Making the annual trek to the State Tournament has become part of the season routine for three of the seniors on Butte Central’s girls’ basketball team.
Seniors Kloie Thatcher, Kailee Murphy, and Megan Michelotti saw their team place second at State during their freshman year, were part of the undefeated Maroons squad that claimed the 2016 Class A title, and took third at last season’s tourney.
The trio will be looking to make it four-for-four as the Central girls open their season with a road game against Whitefish on Friday in Missoula. The Maroons’ boys will also begin their season against Whitefish on Friday.
The Central girls fell to Havre at State last season, ending the Maroons’ bid for back-to-back titles. Tenth-year coach Meg Murphy — in her second stint leading Central — said her squad is fixated on making another appearance.
“These are kids coming back from a state championship run in 2016 and this team has huge expectations for themselves,” said Murphy. “Our goal is to get better every week and by the time the divisional tournament comes that we’re in contention for getting to State. Once you get there, the ball rolls and it’s anybody’s game.”
Central's drive for another appearance at State will come in the absence of graduated playmakers Emily St. John and Mollie Peoples.
It will likely be Thatcher, who Murphy described as "a nemesis for most of the conference", looking to fill the shoes left by St. John and Peoples.
Besides their core of seasoned seniors, the Maroons will also be leaning heavily on the play of their fourth senior, Olivia Bolton, and sophomores Cassidy Strizic and Emma Keeley.
"Our sophomores are going to have to step up," said Murphy.
Central's boys' team is also coming off a respectable run at the State Tournament last season where they reached the semifinals. And while the Maroons may lack ideal experience —Ty Gill, the lone senior for Central's boys, is out for the season with a knee injury — 14th-year head coach Brodie Kelly believes that they have the size to make up for it.
"We've got three kids that are over 6-foot-4 and I like the scoring potential that they bring," said Kelly, referring to sophomores Jared Simkins, Matt Simkins and Aaron Richards. "We've played with a lot of small teams in my tenure."
Dan McCloskey and Matt Simkins are Central's two returning starters.
Another key player for the Maroons will be last season's sixth-man Cade Holter, a 6-foot junior forward who led Central's 2017 football team to a playoff appearance at quarterback. He's looking to do the same thing on the court.
"We had a good summer and we have a great team," said Holter. "If you expect anything less that the best then why play? We've just got to get better every day and better every day."