Class B girls basketball
2019-20 Co-champions: Forsyth and Missoula Loyola
• Last year’s co-champs will be strong again, though one team will have a similar look while the other will re-work itself a bit. Loyola returns three double-digit scorers, including Lani Walker, who averaged nearly 20 points per game. On the flip side, Forsyth graduated four starters. But 6-foot-6 Lindsey Hein returns, and the Montana State-bound post averaged 18 points and nearly 10 rebounds last year, giving the Dogies plenty to build around. If either of these teams wins the title this year, it will mark Class B’s first back-to-back champion since Malta in 2015-16.
• Championship appearance droughts are largely unheard of in Malta, and perhaps the M’ettes’ three-year absence in the title game could go by the wayside this season. After a couple of lean seasons, Malta returned to the state tournament last year. Since 1983, when Malta made its first Class B title-game appearance, the M’ettes have had just two streaks of four years or longer of missing out on the title game: 1987-1990, and 2001-06. With a large contingent of returning players, the cry of “Malta is back!” along the Hi-Line might he heard soon enough.
• Big Timber is another program with a talented contingent of young players looking for a return to state. A semifinalist a year ago, the Herders may have even higher hopes this year with the return of two all-staters in sophomore Bailey Finn and junior Emily Cooley.
• In the past decade, it’s been common for at least three but no more than four teams to make repeat appearances at the state tournament. Since 2010, the only years at least three teams didn’t return came in 2018 (2) and 2019 (1), but we could see more than four teams back in the field in 2021. A random sampling of Class B coaches tabbed Loyola, Forsyth, Malta, and Big Timber as probables, with Colstrip and Bigfork getting a few nods. And not many ruled out Harlem or Shelby, both with big graduation losses. As for other teams to watch, Thompson Falls, Anaconda, Columbus, Whitehall, Roundup, Glasgow and Florence-Carlton received multiple mentions.
• For the first time in 20 years, Dustin Gordon won’t be walking a sideline. In 20 seasons as a coach, the last 14 at Fairfield, Gordon compiled a 382-124 record and won seven state championships. From 2011-2015 his Fairfield teams won 120 games in a row. He stepped down in early 2020 to become the superintendent of the Fairfield School District.
One big number
60: The percentage of last year’s Class B all-state honorees who were underclassmen. A total of 25 players were named to the all-state team, and 15 of them were freshmen, sophomores or juniors. District 5B had four all-state mentions, and none were seniors.