‘Vertically challenged’ Bulldog girls ready to go

Two words that no coach likes to use when describing his basketball team: vertically challenged.

Jeff Arntson, though, isn’t sweating the fact that his Butte High girls’ basketball team doesn’t quite stack up to opponents in the height column of the roster.

Instead, the 10-year Butte High coach is planning on taking advantage of his fast, quick, experienced team that is looking for an eighth straight trip to the Class AA State tournament.

“We’ve got speed, we’ve got quickness and we’ve got a lot of guards who can shoot it,” Arntson said. “We’ve really been working with our kids to get into the offense quick and attack before the defense can set.”

The coach said developing depth is key to his team’s plans to run during the 2012-13 season that starts Tuesday when the Bulldogs take on Belgrade in a non-conference game at the Butte Civic Center.

“I really want to be 9-10 deep,” Arntson said. “We want to really play an tempo this year with a lot of pressing. It’s a 94-foot game, and we’re going to try to make up for that height. We’re going to attack and put the pressure on them. We put a whole new man offense in, mainly to capitalize on our up-tempo stuff.

“A few years ago (Brianne) McClafferty, (Joey) O’Neill, (Gwenn) Abbott and (Kalli) McCloskey set the school scoring record with 62 points a game,” Arntson said of the 2008-09 squad. “I think this team possibly could challenge that.”

The Bulldogs will likely start the season without their two tallest players. Carlie Haeffner, a 6-foot senior is recovering from a high ankle sprain, and the team’s trainers are bringing her along slowly. Brianna O’Mara, a 6-2 sophomore, is out for the season after tearing an ACL during the volleyball season.

“That changed my thinking a lot of what we’re going to do,” Arntson said of O’Mara’s injury.

The Bulldogs will start seniors Hattie Thatcher and Natalee Faupel and juniors Hailey Hoagland, Erika McLeod and Sammy McGree.

Hoagland averaged 10.4 points per game through 10 games last season. In the second quarter of the 11th game, she tore the ACL in her left knee, and the Bulldogs lost eight straight. After a 7-13 regular season, though, the Bulldogs upset Billings West in the playoffs to advance to the state tournament.

McGree averaged 10.1 points in the regular season, while Faupel averaged 8.9 and Thatcher scored 8.8.

Arntson said the 5-11 Faupel can play all five positions for the Bulldogs.

“Natalee can do so many things for us inside because she’s so quick and can jump so well,” Arntson said. “She can bring defenders out a little bit and she can drive on them.”

Faupel is getting some interest from colleges, Arntson said, while Thatcher already committed to play hoops at Montana Tech.

“Hattie is our point guard,” Arntson said. “Sammy and Hailey are our shooters, and Erika too. Erika was our best 3-point shooter by the end of the year.”

Arntson said to keep an eye on sophomore Maria Michelotti.

“She’s just an animal,” Arntson said. “She so strong. When she gets her hands on the ball, nobody is going to take it away from her. ”

Junior Maria Richardson, who is also coming back from an ACL tear, junior Andie Hogan and sophomores Ashten McCloskey and Bethany McLean are in line for lots of playing time off the bench. Arntson also lists sophomores McKaul Ori, Lexi Murpy and Kassidy Caprara on the varsity/junior varsity roster.

“We’ve got some good kids and I really like our chemistry and attitudes,” Arntson said. “They’ve been working their tails off in practice. We’re still not in basketball shape. It will be Christmas before we get that.

“We just need to get on the court and start playing. We’re ready.”

Butte High will play five games before the Christmas break, including a game Thursday at the Civic Center against Helena High.

Butte High’s first Eastern AA game is Jan. 3 at Great Falls High. The Bulldogs play Butte Central Jan. 10. The State tournament is March 7-9 in Great Falls.

Click here for Butte High’s full schedule.