By Bruce Sayler
The core of this year’s Butte High girls’ basketball team has likely been anxious to play again since the end of last season.
The Bulldogs dropped a tough Saturday morning loser-out game to Helena Capital in the Western AA Divisional high school tournament, denying the Butte girls a return trip to the state tournament. Enough of the Bulldogs return to maybe use how the last campaign ended as an incentive.
Mostly, the Bulldogs should just be better.
Head coach Bryan Arntson will send his team against always-strong Bozeman High on Friday night to open the 2022-23 season. The Class AA non-conference game is scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. tip-off in the Bozeman High gym. The boys’ teams from the two schools will clash in the 7 p.m. nightcap of the doubleheader.
The Butte teams will launch their home slate December 15 against Belgrade in the Butte Civic Center.
A chemistry experiment has been going on in the Butte High girls’ hoops camp, Arntson said, as he mixes the lineup in a search for the one that gels. Having two big scorers come back on a young team is reason for optimism and the attitudes have been good, the coach said.
“We’re still rolling with that (finding a lineup),” Arntson said. “You never know until you play kids from other schools and get an idea about where you are.
“I’m enjoying this group and practices have been great.”
Likely penciled in for starting spots are freshman Cadence Graham, a double-digit scorer off the varsity bench as an eighth-grader last season, and junior Brityn Stewart, who finished 2022-23 strong and poured 36 points through the net in one game.
Stewart, at 5-foot-8, will also be looked to for rebounding as one of the taller players on yet-another Bulldog girls’ squad that will yield vertical inches to most opponents.
Both Stewart and Graham were awarded honorable mention on all-conference lists last year. Returnee Taylor Drakos is the only senior on the roster and other returees are juniors Ashlinn Mullaney and Dylann Bartoletti. Mullaney is back after missing her entire sophomore season with a shoulder injury suffered in the 2022 volleyball season. Bartoletti has seen varsity team in both her freshman and sophomore seasons.
Several other candidates are pushing for playing time, Artnson said, preferring not to offer names as of yet.
“I like the team chemistry of this group and I think it will make us successful,” Arntson said. “But, we’re still seeing what combinations work best. We’re moving kids around in practice and won’t know what work combinations work best until after the first couple of games.
“We will have a lot of different contributors, and anybody could be the leading scorer any given night. We have a lot of balance.”
Arntson said he’s kicking the tempo up a bit this season, looking for strong defense to ignite the quicker offense.
“We will try to push the tempo more than we have the last couple years,” he said. “But, to be successful, we’re going to have to play great defense and rebound the ball against taller opponents.
“We have some grit and will have to rely on it.”
Jacqueline Paffhausen, Megan Graham and recent Montana Tech point guard Maddy Allen are helping Arntson with the varsity/junior varsity contingent this year while Eddy Stewart and Courtney Schad help in the subvarsities, and former head coach Jeff Arntson (father to Bryan Arntson and Courtney (Arntson) Schad will mentor throughout the program.
“Actually, everybody is helping out everywhere and everyone,” Bryan Arntson said. “We’re looking forward to getting the season going. We have a couple games coming up and will get four games in before the Christmas break.
This season’s Western AA Divisional tournament will be played in Butte February 29-March 2, and the state AA tourney is set for March 7-9 in Missoula.