Rebuilt Bulldog girls plan to be at Civic Center for State

Rebuilt Bulldog girls plan to be at Civic Center for State
Butte High guard Aspen Lovshin runs the offense as Great Falls Russell’s Emily Funseth defends during a March 3 Eastern AA Divisional Tournament game at the Montana Tech HPER Complex. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bill Foley

Last season, the Butte High girls’ basketball team knocked on the door of the State tournament.

The Bulldogs had an 11-point lead over Great Falls Russell heading into the fourth quarter of a loser-out game at the Eastern AA Divisional Tournament at Montana Tech. The Bulldogs were 8 minutes away from advancing to the big dance for the first time since 2013.

However, Russell star Addison Gardner went off in the fourth quarter, and CMR moved onto the consolation game and the State tournament with a 45-41 win.

This season, the Bulldogs plan on knocking on the door. Fueled by the heartache from last March, they plan to kick the dang thing down.

That door, by the wan, is at the Butte Civic Center, where the 2018-19 season will conclude March 7-9.

With the program finally rebuilt in head coach Maury Cook’s fourth season, the Bulldogs have the look of contender when they open the season next Tuesday at the Civic Center against two-time defending state champion Helena High. (Schedule; roster)

“It took me forever to watch that film,” Cook said of the loss to CMR. “We just had so many things at the end of that game that didn’t go our way. Those threes (three of them by Gardner) at the end killed us, obviously, but there were just things that would have prevented that from even mattering.”

Butte High’s last trip to State was in 2013. They hadn’t even sniffed the tournament again until last year’s battle with the Rustlers. They suffered blowout losses at Bozeman (2014), Billings West (2015) and Billings Skyview (2016 and 2017) in the last four years of the Class AA playoff format.

Cook took over an ultra-young Butte High program before the 2015-16 season, and he had one senior (Abby Dodge in 2017) in his first three seasons. Butte High went 2-19 in his first season, losing by an average of 23 points per game.

Cook’s Bulldogs passed the eye test and played much better in his second season, but the Bulldogs still went 2-19.

Last season, Butte High went 7-13. Big wins included the Bulldogs stopping a three-game losing streak to Butte Central and going on the road to knock off Bozeman.

“We went from losing games by 20 and 30 to losing games by 10 to 15 to winning some,” Cook said of the progression of the first three years. “We only had a few that got away from us.”

This time around, the Bulldogs have what has been so elusive in the recent past. They have seniors. Four of them, to be exact.

Ally Cleverly and Brittney Tierney will be entering their fourth year as starters. Classmates Aspen Lovshin and Justise Birkenbuel have been key contributors for three seasons. Lovshin also saw time as a freshman.

With juniors Kira Mortensen, Haley Herron, Makenna Carpenter, Trisha Ericson, Grace McGrath and Cassie Hammack, sophomores MacKenzie Tutty, Chloe Carpenter, and McCaul McCarthy and freshman Brooke McGrath, the Bulldogs have the makings of an impressive varsity roster.

The Bulldogs also have a strong contingent of freshmen and sophomores who will splay at the subvarsity level.

“They’re an impressive group, and it’s nice to have seniors,” Cook said. “The one thing I have noticed this year is they’re more vocal.”

Butte High will be without Mortensen, a 6-foot-2 post player, for the first couple of weeks. She is not cleared to practice after suffering a concussion late in the volleyball season.

So, Butte High will likely start with Tierney, Cleverly, Lovshin, Herron and Makenna Carpenter early in the season.

Tierney, who has long been a lock-down defender, emerged as a true scoring threat last season. She hit 38 3-pointers and led the team with 9.7 points per game.

Cleverly, who averaged 8.4 points per game a year ago, led the Bulldogs in scoring the two previous seasons. Lovshin added 8.1 points per game, while Herron, a contributor since her freshman year, chipped in with 6.0 points and 5.7 rebounds, and Mortensen grabbed 5.8 rebounds per game.

Cook said the fact that Cleverly didn’t lead the team in points for a third straight year is a good thing. Butte High has a much more balanced attack.

“We’d rather have six kids scoring 10 than one kid scoring 30,” the coach said.

Cook is once again assisted by Jared Lovshin, Heather Trent, Taylor Cook and Layne Cook. Those coaches have been working with the team during nighttime practices at the Civic Center. Every bounce of the ball and every word of instruction can easily be heard in the empty arena.

The team will also play a handful of games in the site of the State tournament.

It is the hope of the Bulldogs that they will end their season in a night in the Civic Center when the bounce of the ball doesn’t echo over the empty seats.

“It’s on the wall. That’s what’s going up on the wall, all the things you’ve got to do to make State,” Cook said. “We put that in our parent note. ‘We hope to keep you in the stands until March when we finish this at State.’”

They want that finish to come on Saturday night at State, too.

“If we shoot the ball well, we can beat anybody,” Cook said. “The kids have just got to come and play hard. Maybe we’ll make a little noise.”

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