Maroons are small in numbers but big on plans

Central girls open basketball season Friday in Frenchtown

By Bill Foley

Butte Central’s girls’ basketball team is not going to outnumber any opponents this season.

The Maroons have just 10 players — with the addition of an 11th possible — in their entire program. That means all the players are playing varsity, and BC has to scramble to find creative ways to get players junior varsity minutes.

Butte Central coach Meg Murphy, though, said what her roster has lacks in quantity, it makes up for with quality. (Roster)

Murphy and her small band of Maroons will open the season this week at the Northwestern/Southwestern A Tipoff Tournament in Frenchtown. BC will play Polson at 9 a.m. on Friday and Bigfork at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

“This is a big year,” Murphy said. “I’m excited to watch them play.”

Less than two years removed from a 1-18 season, the Maroons enter the 2021-22 campaign as the defending Southwestern A regular-season champions. Murphy is the reigning Southwestern A Coach of the Year.

Murphy, who has been coaching in some capacity since 1984, is entering the 15th year of her second stint as the head coach at Butte Central. In that span, Murphy’s Maroons have made eight trips to the Class A State tournament and hoisted a championship banner twice.

With five seniors — including four starters — departing from last year’s worst-to-first ride, the Maroons have some big holes to fill. Murphy said she is confident the Maroons have the players to do it.

Central has three seniors in Sofee Thatcher, Brenna Foley and Payton Hartwick. Thatcher, who was named first-team all-conference after averaging 8.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game last season, has been a contributor since her freshman year.

Foley and Hartwick saw varsity time last year and will step into a starting role for the first time.

“I really like the leadership that our seniors are giving us,” Murphy said. “They’re working hard for us, so I can’t complain. They’re competitive. Brenna and Payton don’t have a ton of varsity experience. They played a bit. Being seniors, they will be just fine. They know what to expect.”

The seniors will be joined in the junior Brooke Badovinac and sophomore Ella Moodry in the starting lineup. Badovinac took home second-team all-conference honors last season, while Moodry, despite an injury, saw time as a freshman.

Murphy marvels at the athletic ability of Moodry, a state champion in track and an all-conference performer in volleyball.

“She is so quick that it almost looks like traveling,” Murphy said. “But I don’t think she is.”

Murphy said Badovinac reminds her of Emily St. John, a lynchpin in BC’s 2016 state championship team, because of her talent and unflappable demeanor.

“I’m excited to watch them,” Murphy said. “Sof is being a great floor leader for us. Badovinac is one who should have a good year. She’s a good athlete. She’s a good player.”

The Maroons will also count on junior Maycee Anderson and sophomores Mollie Drew, Katheryn Lalicker, Renee Creekmore and Ali Stajcar. Murphy said foreign-exchange student Tameli Bayarou has also joined the team. She needs more practice before she can play in a game.

The Maroons have no freshmen out for the team, and Murphy said they are looking at options to get JV minutes for players without sacrificing the varsity team. That could include playing JV games with 4-minute quarters, which would account two quarters against a player’s eligibility.

The coach said the varsity team has to rely on players who will also see JV time.

“If we’re going to have any shot at doing anything, we have to have Mollie Drew and Lalicker,” Murphy said. “We just have to have them.”

Murphy, who will be assisted by her daughter Kailee along with Quinn (Peoples) Carter and Alexandra Rouse, said practices have been going well.

“The one thing is they are in pretty good shape,” she said of her players. “When you only have 10 girls you go hard all the time.

“You see kids get better each day,” Murphy said. “Kids that I wasn’t sure could ever play could end up being good players down the road for Central.”

There will be no easing into the season for the Maroons. After the tipoff tournament, the Maroons will play three conference games before the Christmas break. Central will also play Butte High on Dec. 23.

The Maroons will play their first home game Dec. 16 against Eat Helena Two days later, Dillon comes to town. BC will then travel to Corvallis on Dec. 21.

Central will begin the New Year Jan. 6 at Livingston. The Southwestern A District tournament will be held Feb. 17 in Dillon. The Western A Divisional is the following week in Hamilton.

Missoula will host the Class A State tournament March 10-12.

In all, BC will play 18 regular season games before entering tournament time. Murphy said the Maroons have to be smart to avoid injury through the grind of the season. That, she said, could be what makes or breaks the season.

“For us it’s really important that everybody stays health,” Murphy said. “There’s going to be a lot of times where we should probably practice, and we probably won’t. You can’t run those kids into the ground and expect them to perform.”