HELENA — There's nothing quite like a good rivalry and in Class AA girls basketball right now, there are few, if any better than Helena Capital and Missoula Hellgate.
It might not be Capital and Helena High or Hellgate vs Missoula Sentinel or Big Sky, games that have their own crosstown significance. But in terms of importance, there's has been no shortage of key games between the Bruins and the Knights.
"I'm really excited about playing them," Capital's Dani Bartsch said. "I didn't play that well against them last time and I want to show that's not who I am as a player. They are a very good team and it's just exciting to get another chance."
Capital and Hellagte played earlier this season and the top-ranked Knights delivered the No.2 Bruins only loss (52-50). Hellgate was also the only team to beat Capital last season as the Bruins eventually won the co-state championship, thanks in part to a victory over the Knights in the state semifinals.
"It almost has the intensity of a crosstown," Dani Bartsch said. "You just want to win so badly, but it's like any other game. You just have to study the scouting report, watch a bunch of film and prepare yourself for it."
Hellgate has four different players that score 7.4 points per game or more but none that average in double figures, while Dani is second in the state (14.2 ppg) just ahead of her sister, Paige Bartsch, who is sixth with 12.2 points per game. She also leads the state in rebounds (10.2).
Both teams like to share the basketball and the Bruins have Jaymee Sheridan who is second in the state in Class AA girls with 4.5 assists per game. Dani Bartsch isn't far behind with 3.5. Both Bailee Sayler (3.6) and Addy Heaphy 3.2) are also ranked in the top 10 in assists for Hellgate.
The two teams have alternated wins in their last five matchups and at the Bears Den Saturday, they will meet in a No. 1 vs No. 2 matchup for the second straight year.
It's pretty remarkable that Dani Bartsch was already Capital's all-time leading rebounder heading into this season and now, she has eclipsed 500 and is at 531 total.
The 6-foot-2 senior been a rebounding machine since her freshman season and even though Paige, the leading rebounder in Class AA the past two seasons, has outrebounded her the past two years, Dani still has the career lead by a solid margin.
Dani is also closing in on 700 career points, while Paige (438) is trying to reach 500 career rebounds and also has a shot at setting Capital's career block record.
Helena area teams were supposed to each play a game in Class AA Thursday night with Capital scheduled to host Butte and Helena hosting Hellgate in boys basketball.
But both games have been postponed due to contract tracing related to COVID-19 as Hellgate and Butte are both out for now. The Bruins and Bengals will be off Thursday night and Saturday night instead of playing two games each this week because of it.
The Helena High girls will still be in action and the Bengals will travel to take on Missoula Hellgate on Thursday (7:15 p.m.), before returning home to host Butte High Saturday. Kylie Lantz is leading the Bengals in scoring going into this week but Helena also got a lift recently from senior Liz Heuiser. Brooke Ark and freshman Avery Kraft have also come on as of late.
The Capital girls will have the exact opposite schedule of crosstown rival Helena. The Bruins will play in Butte tomorrow and host No. 1 Hellgate on Saturday.
Helena High and Butte will tip off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Capital and Hellgate will play at 3:45 p.m.
Both the Bruins and Bengals are scheduled to tip off at 7:15 Thursday night on the road against their respective opponents.