By Bill Foley
If a positive attitude can carry a girls’ basketball team to success, then good things will definitely be in store for the 2017-18 Butte High Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs bring a solid outlook into the season as the team can finally see the light at the end of the rebuilding tunnel.
“The thing I like about our team right now is the attitude,” third-year Butte High coach Maury Cook said as his Bulldogs practiced Saturday morning at the Richardson Gym. “Our attitude is really good.”
When Butte High opens the season Tuesday, Dec. 5 at Helena High, the Bulldogs aren’t entering the campaign as a team that went 2-19 the last season. Instead, they are entering as a team ready to compete.
“The gap was closing a little bit,” said Cook, who won a pair of state titles with Anaconda before taking over the Bulldogs. “The first year we were getting beat by 20 or 30 points. Last year it was closer. Last year we had halves where we played really well.”
For a Class AA team that is still so very young, the Bulldogs have a remarkable amount of experience returning.
That experience begins with Ally Cleverly and Brittney Tierney, a pair of juniors who are entering their third year at the heart of the Bulldog lineup. They also are the heart of that positive Butte High attitude.
Cleverly, who is coming off an All-State soccer season, led the Bulldogs in scoring her first two seasons. She averaged 9.1 points per game as a freshman and 10.1 as a sophomore.
“She works hard,” Cook said. “She travels a lot in the summer. She’s always at it.”
Tierney is a gritty competitor who can take away any team’s best player.
“She’s ultra-competitive,” Cook said. “We talk about shutting down a defender. She takes pride in shutting down a defender.”
Junior Aspen Lovshin and sophomores Kira Mortensen and Haley Herron will likely round out the starting five for the Bulldogs. All three bring game experience for the Bulldogs.
Juniors Marti Ludwick and Justise Birkenbuel and sophomore Tricia Erickson give the Bulldogs experience off the bench. Emily Kelly, a junior who moved to town from Helena, also expects to be in the mix for the Bulldogs.
Other players on the varsity/junior varsity roster are junior Jaden Cleveland and sophomores Makenna Carpenter, Grace McGrath, Grace Luoma, Sydney Doyle and Meaghan Weisenfels.
At 6-foot-1, Mortensen gives the Bulldogs a force inside. When she is on the bench, Butte High will be an undersized team. At 5-9, Birkenbuel is the second-tallest Bulldog.
“We’ve got to be able to rebound really well because of our size,” Cook said. “We’ve got to play fast and physical.”
Butte High is still a year away from having a program that has a solid class freshman through senior. Actually, these Bulldogs don’t have a single senior on the roster.
The health of the Bulldog program, though, is clearly on the rise. Butte High has nearly 40 girls out for the team. That comes two seasons after Butte High finished the year with 27 players.
“We’ll finally have four teams,” Cook said. “That will be nice.
“It would be nice if our juniors were playing JV,” Cook added. “This is the first time we’re able to take a group of sophomores and keep them together so they can have some success.”
Cook looks forward to the time when the Bulldogs won’t have to rely on freshman and sophomores at the varsity level. He would like to keep the classes together, for the most part.
“When you’re constantly bring kids up as freshman and sophomores, they’re not able to have success and see the wins,” the coach said.
The skill level of the program has clearly improved over the last three years, Cook said.
“For the first time in three years, when we put five out on the floor, all five kids can shoot it and handle it,” Cook said.
The Bulldogs have also been able to handle demanding practice and practice times. Butte High’s girls practiced at 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday. They went even earlier on Wednesday, the day of Butte High’s dance.
“We practiced at 6a.m. on Wednesday because of the Coronation,” Cook said. “It was one of our better practices. The came out and got after it.”
The Bulldogs will get after each other during the Purple and White Game, which is Thursday.
After opening at Helena, the Bulldogs will play their first home game the following Tuesday against Missoula Big Sky. That game will be at the Butte Civic Center.
Butte High will play seven games, including the Jan. 11 game against Butte Central. The Eastern A Divisional tournament will be March 1-3 in Butte. (Complete schedule)
By then, the Bulldogs are hoping their positive attitude translates into a team that can compete for four spots at the Class AA State tournament, which is March 8-10 in Billings.