HELENA — Last year’s State AA girls basketball championship game featured Helena High and Missoula Sentinel, and those two teams could be in the mix again, along with a half-dozen or so other clubs.
Helena beat Sentinel 46-41 for the title, which was its first state championship in 20 years. The defending champs, who finished 20-3, lost three starters to graduation, while returning a pair of all-state selections this winter.
Bengal senior guard Kamden Hilborn, at 5-foot-7, was selected all-state, in addition to be named Tournament MVP. Junior Jamie Pickens, a 6-2 post, made both all-state and all-tourney.
The Western Conference champion Spartans went 21-2, and return five players who were starters at different times during the season, including four who received postseason accolades.
Senior forwards Jordyn Schweyen and Kylie Frohlich were both all chosen to the all-state team, while 6-1 sophomore Lexi Deden was all-conference. Schweyen, Frohlich and junior Emma Blakely were tabbed to the all-tourney team.
Jordyn and sister Shelby Schweyen (a junior) and Frohlich, and HHS’ Pickens, have all committed to the University of Montana.
Billings Senior defeated Bozeman 42-34 for third-place. The Broncs finished at 13-6, and will return four starters to the squad, led by all-stater Kola Bad Bear. Bad Bear is a 6-1 junior post.
The Hawks, who were the 2016 state titlist, captured last year’s Eastern Conference crown, and wound up at 16-8. They return just two starters, with Alex Carey, a 5-10 senior, having been a 2017 all-state selection at guard/forward. Lost to graduation was all-stater Rhianna Rogers.
Billings West (13-6) and Great Falls CMR (15-8) both lost in the consolation semifinals last year.
The Rustlers returning stalwarts include all-state pick Addison Gardner and all-conference selection Kyra Willis, both of whom are senior guards. CMR also has two other seniors that started games last year. West returns just two starters.
Capital High, two years removed from their AA championship in 2015, qualified for state last year and finished at 14-9. The Bruins return all five starters, featuring 6-3 all-state senior center Taylor Sullivan. Junior guard Sydney Sheridan was an all-conference selection last year.
The eighth team in last year’s state tourney was Kalispell Glacier, which is considered to be among the top teams in the West this year.
For the first time in over 25 years, Class AA will contest divisional tournaments, where those schools that missed out last year — Butte, Kalispell Flathead, Missoula Hellgate, Missoula Big Sky, Great Falls and Billings Skyview — will also seek to punch a ticket to State.
The Class AA tourney will be held at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark March 8-10.
NOTE: There will be more in-depth previews later this week for Helena High and Capital.