MISSOULA — Even Hamilton senior Carson Rostad didn’t expect the Broncs to be having this successful of a basketball season in his final year on the hardwood before joining the Montana football team in the fall.
They're ranked No. 2 in Class A, have a 12-2 record and are coming off an upset win this past weekend that moved them into first place in the Southwest A conference and announced them as a State A title contender.
Rostad, a quarterback who signed with the Griz in December, has been a vital piece to that success for a Hamilton team that returned just two starters from last year’s team that placed fourth at state.
“I think if we keep playing good, we can shock a lot of people and go further than we thought ourselves,” Rostad said. “We lost a lot of people, so even I had doubts myself about how good we’d be. We’re realizing that we could play with each other and we could beat pretty much anybody.”
A 6-foot-3 forward, Rostad sees his role as making shots when he’s open, grabbing as many rebounds as possible and playing sound defense. He’s second on the team with 11.6 points per game and is averaging a team-best 7.9 rebounds per game. His 23 steals are tops on the team, while his 24 assists are the third most.
Hamilton coach Travis Blome has seen Rostad display his quarterback qualities in how he directs the offense and defense. Rostad, the Montana Gatorade football player of the year as a junior, has played on the varsity basketball team for four years and is in his second season as a starter after being the sixth man as a sophomore.
“He’s one of our leaders for sure,” Blome said. “What he does is the little things on both ends of the floor. He makes sure we’re in the right positions. He’s really a floor general out there in the low post. He plays tough defensively. Offensively, he’s able to just play hard down low.”
In addition to Rostad, Hamilton also can run its offense through 6-3 senior Trey Searle. He leads the team with 16.5 points on average, 36 total assists and 11 total blocks. He’s also made 33 of the team’s 59 3-pointers, shooting 35.5% beyond the arc.
Among the players taking on bigger roles are 6-5 junior Tyler Burrows, who’s averaging 8.1 points and 5.4 rebounds to go with 10 total blocks, and 5-11 junior Austin Drake, who’s added 5.6 points per game and 31 total assists, the second most on the team. Others like 6-foot sophomore Tyson Rostad and 5-7 freshman Eli Taylor have added to the depth of the team, which includes three other seniors in Landon Duce, Josh Dickemore and Tristan Hanson.
Hamilton showed its growth by beating then-No. 2 Butte Central on the road Saturday after losing to the Maroons early in the season, 54-31. The Broncs’ only other loss came in their opener to undefeated and top-ranked Hardin, 74-67.
“This is by far the most fun season we’ve had because of the kids we have and the chemistry we have,” Rostad said. “We play well together. The win (at Butte Central) proved we were better than most people thought we were going to be.”
The Broncs have another big showdown on Thursday at Frenchtown, a team they beat earlier in the season. At 6-1, Hamilton controls its own destiny to win the Southwest A title, while Frenchtown is tied for second with Butte Central at 6-2.
“They’re one of the most talented teams in the state and are playing well,” Blome said of Frenchtown. “It should be a fun challenge.”
Former Griz quarterback-turned-receiver Jeff Larson has been selected as a member of the Montana High School Sports Hall of Fame, he recently learned in a phone call from MHSA assistant director Kip Ryan.
“I thought it was one of my friends from high school playing a prank on me,” said Larson, who graduated from Cut Bank in 2006 before coming to Montana. “They tend to do that from time to time. I called my parents and they confirmed it. It was kind of funny, but it’s extremely humbling. I never, even in my wildest dreams, thought I would be there or have the opportunity to be there. It’s kind of a surreal thing.”
Larson was on teams that won eight state championships: four in tennis, three in basketball and one in football, the 2005 team on which he was the quarterback. He also won three doubles titles and was a four-time all-state selection in tennis, was a two-time all-state basketball player and a two-time state hoops tournament MVP, and was a two-time all-state choice in football.
“I’m not a real big fan of individual honors in team sports,” Larson admitted. “Call it luck, a good group of friends in high school, but there were eight or nine of us who grew up playing sports from third grade on. It wouldn’t have happened without them. They’re good group of guys. I was lucky enough to be with them.”
Larson didn’t enjoy a similar level of success at Montana, where he played from 2007-10 after a grayshirt semester, totaling 84 rushing yards, 30 receiving yards and one score, and 69 passing yards and one touchdown. He moved from quarterback to receiver ahead of his junior season and still remembers his first spring practice as a quarterback, a moment that gave him a rude awakening to the difference in the level of players between high school and college.
“I came in to run an option package,” Larson recalled. “My first play, Kroy Biermann was the starting defensive end, Colt Anderson was the strong safety and Shann Schillinger was the free safety – all three were guys who played in the NFL. We had success on the first play, so they made us run it again. I still have the scar on my chin from where Colt hit me. He goes, ‘Welcome to college football.’”
Larson has remained in Missoula since his playing days, putting to use his finance degree by working as a wealth advisor at Granite Peak Wealth Advisors. He’s been a UM football season ticket holder since his final season and sees the Griz on the way to returning to the level they were at when Montana made the national championship game his sophomore and junior seasons.
“I think they have the expectation that we’ll be back at the premiere of the FCS level and making national championship runs every year,” Larson said. “We’ll be getting back to where we’re in the preseason saying it’d be unexpected if we don’t make the national championship.”
BC to UM
Butte Central senior Cutter Thatcher signed on Monday to compete in track and field for Montana. He becomes the first Maroon to head to the Griz for track and field since Tyler McIntyre, who graduated from Butte Central in 2001, according to Maroons coach Zack Stajcar.
“It’s pretty exciting for Cutter,” Stajcar said. “He works extremely hard. He doesn’t just work out during the track season. He goes a couple days a week all year long. It’s nice to see a kid that works so hard be able to further his track career, especially at the D-I level.”
Thatcher turned his focus to track and field during his sophomore year, and Stajcar has seen him take off since then.
Thatcher placed second in the long jump at the State A meet as a junior with a personal record of 21 feet, 6 inches. He was also fourth in the 300-meter hurdles, fifth in the 400-meter dash, eighth in the 200-meter dash and was on the 400-meter relay team that placed sixth.
“He mentioned a couple years ago that he thought it’d be cool to continue track at the college level,” Stajcar said. “He kept working at it. Now he’s able to do it. It’s because he’s an extremely coachable kid. His work ethic is above and beyond. I think for the university, they’re going to get a great athlete and like having him as part of their team. If they want him to try some different events, I’m sure he’d be willing and have success with his worth ethic and athleticism.”