Maroon girls look to take next step

The Butte Central girls’ basketball team went through last season without a senior on the team and won 19 games.

The losses were few, only six. However, it is the sixth loss, 58-46 to Hamilton in the state Class A high school girls’ basketball tournament championship game, that the Maroons have the freshest memory from for that season.

Almost all of the girls on that state runner-up team are back for another go and will start taking steps to try to erase the stinging memory of that last loss in Hamilton. The new season begins this weekend.

The BC girls will play host to the Butte Central Tip-Off this weekend and are scheduled to play Laurel on Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the Maroon Activities Center (MAC), then Lewistown on Saturday at 7 p.m. in the Butte Civic Center in non-conference tilts. Tournament schedule

“Practices haven’t gone too bad,” Butte Central head coach Meg Murphy said, in low key. ‘We’re a little short on numbers with injuries and so forth, but we’re getting there. We’re coming along.”

The returnees include all four Maroons who earned Southwestern A All-Conference recognition last year in 5-foot-6 junior point guard Emily St. John, 5-8 sophomore guard Kloie Thatcher, 5-7 junior forward Mollie Peoples and 5-10 senior forward Sierra Pica. All started last year, three for the second year, and will again this season.

The fifth spot goes to Murphy’s daughter, 6-0 sophomore Kailee Murphy, who played well as a freshman, and came on especially strong as a rebounder the second half of the schedule. However, she was injured in a car wreck and unable to play in the postseason.

Other returnees include 5-5 sophomore Olivia Bolton, 5-5 senior Kate Ossello, 6-0 junior Caleigh Mullaney, 5-6 junior Taylor Wahl and 5-9 sophomore Megan Michelotti.

Ossello was a starter last year and brings that experience in off the bench this season. She and Michelotti are expected to be the first subs in for much of the season. However, Michelotti is likely out until after the holidays after having undergone an appendectomy Monday night.

“The positive is that it’s December and not January and February, so we will have her later in the season,” coach Murphy said. “She had a really good scrimmage on Saturday and so I thought we were pretty solid at the post.”

Michelotti, Mullaney and Wahl all also played a lot of varsity minutes in the 2014-15 campaign.

The rest of the roster shows one junior and five freshmen. The junior is 5-6 Tzu-Chen Lin, and the freshmen are 5-0 Tricia Joyce, 5-7 Bella Sorini, 5-6 Lindsey McGree, 5-9 Shea Davis and 5-7 Karlie Wagner.

“Our starters are solid, but it doesn’t matter much who we start,” Murphy said, referring to a good bench that will see a lot of playing time. “With this group, there might not be enough basketballs in the gym. That’s a good problem to have. This is a competitive group.”

The coach said the scoring will be guard-oriented while inside defense and rebounding are areas she are trying to upgrade to strengths.

“I like to play big,” she said, alluding to a preferred taller, stronger lineup. “We won’t change what has worked for us. We will have Sierra and Kailee for size, with Caleigh coming in, and Taylor Wahl can play inside for us, too. Then, we’ll have Megan in there, too, later.

“Emily, Kloie and Mollie are all good shooters and they pass pretty well. And Kate can help us a lot at the guards.”

Murphy said Thatcher is healthier this year after going through back problems last season. The sophomore guard sat out volleyball season to further rest and strengthen her back for the pounding on the hardwood.

“We have only two seniors, so we’re still pretty young,” Murphy said. “So, I’m anxious to see us play and see where we’re at. We have experience, which is a positive.”

The experience is extensive, too, for a young group. The girls played a long season last year, getting all the way to the championship game.

“We have a ways to go, defensively,” Murphy said. “And we have to stay out of foul trouble. Opening against a top program like Laurel should be good for us and we’ll see where we’re, right now.

“The girls are just ready to go, and we’re anxious to get the kids on the floor. We have to go to work. It’s that time of the year.”

Melissa Swanson and Katie English return as assistant coaches, while recent Maroon stars Quinn Peoples and Lexie Murphy (Meg’s other daughter) have been added to the staff. Peoples recently completed a standout career at Montana State-Billings.

The Southwestern A and Northwestern A conferences will hold a joint Western A Super Divisional tournament in Butte Feb. 24-27 to advance four teams to the state Class A tourney March 10-12 in Belgrade.

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