BILLINGS — After Thursday night at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark, the Wolf Point girls basketball team proved last year may not have been a fluke.
The Wolves appeared in the 2017 Class B state tournament, the first time the school had been playing in the final weekend since they made back-to-back appearances in 2003 and 2004, having won it all in 2003.
Wolf Point went toe-to-toe with eventual champion Fairfield in the semifinals, ultimately losing 48-40. After losing three seniors from last year's team, the Wolves are looking to duplicate the successes from last year.
The Wolves again clashed with another tough team, this time taking on last year's Class A runner-up in Hardin. The Bulldogs pulled out a tough 48-43 win on the first day of the 2017 All-American Indian Shootout, but Wolf Point once again proved it can hang with a top-tier team.
"I thought tonight was a good tell of what our season is going to be," Wolf Point girls basketball coach Cody Larson said. "I thought we played with them until the end and had a chance to lead and didn't. We're looking at this as an opportunity for growth and I think we found out a lot about ourselves tonight and where we want to go."
Wolf Point trailed Hardin by one at the half and go as close as three in the final minutes, but missed throws from the Wolves and made ones from Hardin helped seal the game for the Bulldogs.
Overall, Larson was pleased with what his girls did, knowing that these early December games are good ways to see where his team stands before conference play ultimately starts.
Led by starters Abby Juve, Brenna Kurokawa, Samarah Wells, Aubrey Zilkoski and Mary Bighorn, the Wolves are relying on a deeper rotation to attack teams this year, with nine total players on the roster. Zilkoski and Kurokawa are the team's seniors.
"They all bring different things and what we're looking for and it's a good time to grow and get after it," Larson said.
Bighorn, Wells and Juve saw significant minute increases and action at state last year, with Zilkoski contributing big in the Wolves' first round state win over Colstrip with 18 points in the 55-44 win. The upset win marked the Fillies first loss of the year and advanced Wolf Point to the matchup with Fairfield.
"We did a lot of open gyms and offseason tournaments so we knew how to build together and grow as a family," Juve said about the team learning to gel. "We do a lot of things together and learn together.
"Heading into this season I saw what I needed to improve on and what I didn't need to. Boxing out and those types of little things. Our team would watch film and we'd just improve."
Juve and Larson said one team goal is to always make state, and going back-to-back for the school for the first time since those '03-'04 seasons would make it that much sweeter.
"Our goal every year is to make state, and then we did. Then our goal was to win state, and we lost to the eventual state champions by eight," Juve said. "That was a big accomplishment for us so it was pretty awesome. I love basketball and experiencing things with my team so we're glad the season is back."