By Bill Foley
Butte Central’s girls’ basketball team will have a lot going for it Thursday when the Maroons finally open the season.
BC will have a combination of talent, experience and depth — on the court and on the bench — when the Maroons take on Park High from Livingston at 7:15 p.m. at the Maroon Activities Center. (Roster; Schedule)
Thursday’s opener comes about a month late because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It could not come soon enough for the Maroons, who are eager to bounce back from last year’s 1-18 season that saw BC miss the Class A State tournament for the first time since 2014.
“We have a lot of kids on there with talent,” BC coach Meg Murphy said of her roster. “I’m anxious to play.”
Murphy enters her 14th season since she took over for Don Peoples Jr. as an “interim coach” in the fall of 2007.
Murphy, who guided the Maroons to Class A State titles in 2011 and 2016, also had an eight-run with the Maroons ending in 1996. She coached at Montana Tech as an assistant and then head coach in the years between her stints at BC.
She has been through a winless season, an undefeated campaign, and pretty much everywhere in between. This year, the veteran coach sees a team that will be much better than her 2019-20 team that was much better than the record might indicate.
“We lost of really close games,” said Murphy, a Butte Sports Hall of Famer who also has a pair of softball titles on her résumé. “We just couldn’t get over that hump.”
This season, the hump is on the horizon for the Maroons, who have talent at the varsity level from all four classes.
Seniors Avery Kelly, Amira Bolton, Delaney Hasquet, Maddie Kump and Taylor Harrington all bring years of experience to the BC squad. Junior Sofee Thatcher has been a key contributor since her freshman year.
Thatcher averaged 8.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game for the Maroons last season. Hasquet added 6.6 points, while Kump, who has been known for knocking down big shots for multiple seasons, scored 4.4.
The 5-foot-7 Bolton will be counted on to play more outside this season, Murphy said. Kelly, also 5-7, will join the 5-10 Harrington as an inside presence.
Kelly, whose wingspan makes her play much taller than 5-7, is getting attention from college volleyball programs.
“That has given her a boatload of confidence,” Murphy said. “I am just high on her. She’s a kid who is going to have a great season for us.”
Sophomore Brooke Badovinac is another player who will play exclusively on the varsity level. Murphy said Badovinac has recently been recharged when a brace seemed to alleviate a lingering knee injury.
“Bado is a different player,” Murphy said. “She could crack the starting lineup.”
That staring lineup could be a “game-time decision” for Murphy. The coach said that is a testament to the depth of her rotation.
“We scrimmaged on Friday, and I told the kids I did not have any inkling of a starting lineup,” Murphy said. “It’s just a matter of us deciding who comes off the bench. Most of the time my sixth man spends more time on the floor than my starters. The good thing is we have a good rotation. We’re able to rotate. The bench is a little deeper.”
Juniors Payton Hartwick and Brenna Foley are part of that depth. Both players have varsity experience, and they will swing between varsity and JV this season.
Sophomore Miranda Murphy is also listed on the varsity roster along with promising freshmen Ella Moodry, Mollie Drew and Catherine Lalicker.
In all, the Maroons have 17 players out for the team. That is not enough to field three teams, so BC will not play a freshman schedule. Instead, they’ll play junior varsity games with as many as seven freshman in the book.
Murphy will be assisted by Quinn Peoples, Kailee Murphy and Alex Rouse. Hattie Thatcher, who joins the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners this week, will periodically help out, too. She has coached with the Maroons since her playing days ended at Montana Tech.
Rouse joins the program knowing what it is like to face a Murphy-coached team. She was a four-year standout for rival Dillon.
“I’m excited to have her,” Murphy said of Rouse, who is student teaching in Butte. “She’s intense.”
The Maroons will open Southwestern A play Saturday in Dillon. BC will play a 15-game schedule, and the team began practicing on Dec. 7.
This is the time of year when a team is usually starting to show its true identity. This year, that is still a mystery for the Maroons, even though the teams have had about twice a much practice time as usual leading up to the first game.
“Usually, you have those early games and it gives you an idea of what you need to focus on,” Murphy said. “After a month, you’re just not sure where you’re at, what exactly is going to work for you.”
Still, Murphy is optimistic as the season finally begins.
“I’m anxious about it,” she said. “We’ve got some good kids, and everybody can contribute somewhere.”