Butte High’s Hoagland ready for return to court

Hailey Hoagland was really turning it on.

The Butte High sophomore guard was coming off a 20-point game — the highest single-game point total for the Bulldog girls’ basketball team all season — in a win over Billings Senior.

With Great Falls Russell coming into Butte High’s Ross J. Richardson Gym on Jan. 26, Hoagland was determined to avenge what she called a “really bad game.” The Rustlers beat Butte High 72-44 three weeks earlier in Great Falls.

Hoagland scored just three points in that loss, which at the time was the low point of the season for the Bulldogs.

“I told myself, ‘You need to step it up,'” Hoagland says. “Then we played Central next, and I played really, really good. I made that first 3-pointer of the game, right off the bat. Everyone had a good game.”

The Bulldogs beat previously unbeaten Butte Central at the Civic Center on Jan. 12. Hoagland scored 14 points, which was second only to Natalee Faupel’s 16.

“Her confidence was gaining,” Butte High coach Jeff Arntson says. “She was really starting to play well”

Hoagland, who was second only to classmate Sammy McGree on the team with 10.4 points per game, scored 12 in a tough loss to Billings West the night before her 20-point game against Senior.

Then Butte High avenged that embarrassing loss to CMR, beating the Rustlers comfortably. Behind 17 points from Hattie Thatcher and 12 each from McGree and Faupel, the Bulldogs won 54-36 to improve to 6-5 overall and 2-3 in Eastern AA play.

The win, though, came at a great cost. With 5 minutes, 40 seconds showing on the clock in the second quarter, Hoagland drove down the middle. Untouched, she planted and fell to the floor in the key on the west end of the gym.

The anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee snapped. Her season was over.

“Right when I did it, it just popped and it burned. It didn’t hurt terribly bad,” Hoagland says. “I just felt a pop, and that was about it. I think I was more scared because Mariah (Richardson) had just did it like two weeks before, and she was telling me about all the symptoms she had.”

Hoagland sat at the end of the bench during the second half of the game hoping for the best. “At first they told me it might be my MCL,” she says. “I kind of got my hopes up.”

Three days later, the bad news was confirmed, and a season suddenly pointing up for the Bulldogs came crashing down. Butte High lost its next eight games.

Butte High rebounded to beat Billings Skyview in its last regular-season game before going on the road to upset Billings West in the playoffs to qualify for the Class AA State tournament for the seventh straight year. The Bulldogs, though, didn’t have enough fire power at State, losing to eventual champion Missoula Sentinel and CMR.

The injury also prevented Hoagland from helping the Butte High softball team from trying to defend its 2011 State championship. She was a key contributor as a freshman, hitting one of the biggest home runs in school history.

On Saturday morning of the State tournament, Hoagland hit a two-run blast in the bottom of the 10th inning of a game scheduled to go seven. The home run tied the loser-out game against Billings Senior. The next batter, Maria Robinson, hit a home run to win the game for the Bulldogs, who went on to beat Billings West twice to win it all.

While the Bulldogs took the diamond as defending champions, though, Hoagland was busy working to get back on the basketball court.

A few weeks after the injury, Hoagland had her knee surgically prepared in Helena by Dr. John Michelotti. The next day, the hard work began.

“You start the day after surgery, like flexing your quad and doing single leg squats,” Hoagland says. “In the summer time I started hitting it really hard with weights and squats, working to build my quad and my hamstrings. All summer I did weights every other day.”

She also played golf. A lot of golf.

Hoagland placed fourth in the Class AA State tournament as a sophomore, helping the Bulldogs to a second-place finish. She did that even though she says she never really made golf a priority.

Not being able to play softball changed that, and Hoagland really stepped up her golf game heading into her junior season.

She began playing once cleared by her doctor in May.

Just after school got out, Hoagland qualified for the Montana State Golf Association’s Junior State tournament at a qualifying tournament in Dillon. At State, Hoagland qualified for nationals, which was in Hawaii in July.

“Oh, it was so fun,” Hoagland says of the Hawaii trip. “I did OK. I did so bad the first day, but the second and third day I did better. I just had so much fun being there.”

Hoagland says the trip to Hawaii probably wouldn’t have happened on a healthy knee.

“This year because I couldn’t play softball, I got a jump start on golf. That was like the only thing I could do,” she says. “I was like ‘I can actually do something,’ so I hit that hard.

“I kind of think one of the only reasons I made those tournaments was because I couldn’t play softball,” she says. “Usually I have to wait until softball is completely over before I swing a club because it messes me up.”

Hoagland built on the big summer with a strong season on the course for the Bulldogs. Two weeks before the State tournament, Hoagland won the Butte High Invitational tournament, which was played at Anaconda’s Old Works and her home course, the Butte Country Club.

Hoagland was playing her best golf of the season just at the right time. What she didn’t know, though, was that she was playing with mononucleosis.

At state, the illness kicked in big time, and Hoagland says she was terribly disappointed by her performance at State, where she finished eighth and earned All-State honors for the second straight year.

“I was really disappointed because for about two weeks before I started doing really good,” Hoagland says. “I had been working with Daniel Kane at Old Works. I went like 76, 76, 73 and then I did terrible at State.”

Hoagland refuses to make an excuse for her performance at State, even though most girls in high school golf kill for her scores.

“I was sick, and everyone was like ‘Oh, you were sick,'” she says. “I was like, ‘That’s not an excuse to do bad.’ I wasn’t happy at all.”

After the golf season ended,  Hoagland, who was OK’d to start running and jumping in August, kicked her rehab into high gear. Actually, she hit it too hard.

“The doctor and (Butte High trainer) Michelle (Gardner), they had to tell me to slow down,” Hoagland says. “I was too into it. I just wanted to go, go, go. They said I had to take it slow and ease my way into it.”

Arntson has a similar issue with Hoagland at practice.

“She’s really pushing hard,” the coach says. “She missed that year, so she’s trying to make up two years in one year. She’s frothing at the mouth to get out there and play. She’s got the inner fire inside of her that just drives her. She wants to be the best.”

Arntson points to a simple missed free throw at practice as evidence of Hoagland’s desire. At the end of practice, the Bulldogs practice free throws, and a miss means the whole team runs line drills. One practice Hoagland missed a free throw, and the team ran.

“It ticked her off so bad that she missed,” Arntson says. “She stayed after practice and worked on free throws. She was making 10, 12, 14 in a row. That one miss drove her insane. She’s a perfectionist.”

Hoagland says her knee is at about 90 percent as the Bulldogs head into Tuesday’s opening game, which is against Belgrade at the Butte Civic Center.

It has been just over 10 months since Hoagland has been able to play in a basketball game. Tuesday night, she’ll hit the court to start making up for that lost time.

“I’m just so excited for basketball,” Hoagland says. “I’ve been excited since like August.”