Bulldog girls ready to bring ‘upside’ to 2021 season

Bulldog girls ready to bring ‘upside’ to 2021 season
McCaul McCarthy of Butte High battles for rebound position with Flathead's Rebecca Eacker (45) and Clare Converse (15) during a Western AA Divisional game March 6 at Missoula Sentinel's gym. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bill Foley

Graduation night in June was hard on the Butte High girls’ basketball team.

With the departure of Grace McGrath, Makenna Carpenter, Trisha Ericson and Haley Herron, 242 games of varsity experience walked out the door at Butte High School. Herron alone played in 85 varsity games, which ranks fourth all time in school history.

The four seniors also made up 57 percent of Butte High’s scoring in 2019-20, leading the Bulldogs to within an eyelash of advancing to the Class AA State tournament for the second straight year.

As Butte High finally enters game week for the first time of the 2020-21 season, however, the Bulldogs are focused more on what they have back. Butte High sixth-year head coach Maury Cook said he really likes what he has seen over three weeks practicing for Saturday’s first game.

“They have a lot of upside,” Cook said of his players.

The Bulldogs open the season at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at home against Missoula Big Sky. Cook said he thinks the game is at the Richardson Gym, but that has not been set for sure. Each player, home and away, will be allowed two fan passes. (Schedule; Roster)

While much uncertainty remains for playing the season in a pandemic, Cook is expecting good things from his Bulldogs.

“They’re still working really hard,” Cook said of a team that started practicing Dec. 7.

The coach has not set a starting lineup yet. That could come after the team holds a fan-free Purple and White Game at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Senior MacKenzie Tutty is the top returning scorer. She averaged 9.1 points per game a year ago, and Cook said she is working hard to improve her defense.

Seniors McCaul McCarthy, Maddie Rhodes and Madison Skeel, juniors Brooke McGrath, Kodie Hoagland, Tylar Clary and Ashley Olson, and sophomore Emmarie Richards also bring experience to the Bulldog roster.

Clary, Hoagland, McCarthy and Tutty played in all 21 Butte High games as the Bulldogs went 8-13. McGrath and Olson played in 18, while Rhodes and Skeel participated in 13.

Juniors Mya Stenson and Pieper Joseph return after missing last season with hip injuries.

At 5-foot-5, Joseph is a guard. The 5-8 Stenson is a versatile tool for the Bulldogs, Cook said.

“She has the curse and the benefit of being that tweener,” Cook said of Stenson. “She can play outside and she can play inside. That’s a godsend for us, but for her it’s just more learning.”

The 6-3 Olson will be counted on for her inside game for Cook’s Bulldogs who are, for the most part, vertically challenged.

“She’s starting to show signs of what we think she can do,” Cook said. “We just need that defensive presence more than anything. The offense will come. Our conference is so big, and we need that defensive presence.”

Butte High will also turn to McCarthy for inside play. The 5-10 McCarthy has showed she is more than capable of that by coming off the bench to give the Bulldogs tough minutes the last two seasons.

McCarthy will likely take on a bigger role as a starter as a senior.

“She’s worked her tail off,” Cook said. “She’s probably the best leader I’ve had since I’ve been at Butte High.”

Unofficially, McCarthy led the planet in charges taken the past two seasons.

“She could be all-conference just on the amount of charges she takes,” Cook said with a laugh.

What the Bulldogs lack in size, they more than make up for with their speed. With Tutty, Joseph, Hoagland, McGrath, Rhodes and Richards, the Bulldogs have the makings of a pretty good track team. Cook, who loves the full-court press game, plans to take full advantage of that running ability.

“There’s just a lot of speed there,” said Cook, who has racked up 186 wins in 13 seasons as head coach in Butte and Anaconda. “We’re going to be 10 deep and try and go up and down the court. We’re going to push it up and down the court. When Ashley comes off the floor, we’re not very big.”

Hoagland’s speed and quickness has already proven to be pesky for Bulldog opponents. Richards showed off the same ability in six varsity games as a freshman.

“She’s really athletic and fast,” Cook said. “She sees the floor really well for just being a sophomore. She can get up and down the floor.”

Juniors Hailee Houchin and Nia McClanahan have also been practicing with the varsity/junior varsity. So have sophomores Laura Rosenleaf, Rian Ferriter and Payton Clary. Cook said those players make Butte High’s practices better. They could also vie for playing time.

In all, Butte High has 32 players out for the team. The rosters include an eight-player sophomore team and an eight-player freshman squad. Bob Olson, Steve Shahan, Jacqueline Paffhausen and Josh Keltz will assist Cook.

Butte High will play a schedule of 14 Western AA games. Class AA teams will not play non-conference games this season.

The Bulldogs were set to host the Western AA Divisional tournament this season. That, however, will not happen because of the pandemic.

Instead, the Class AA will go to a playoff system that will have the higher seed hosting games all the way through the state championship game. 2 comments

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  • Curtis Smith
    December 30, 2020, 7:36 pm


  • Curtis Smith
    December 31, 2020, 12:30 am

    I forgot to add: McCaul, PLAY SMART!


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