Young Central girls’ team ready to compete

Young Central girls’ team ready to compete
Butte Central guard Tricia Joyce looks to pass in a Feb. 2 game against Livingston at the Maroon Activities Center. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bill Foley

Graduation hit Butte Central’s girls’ basketball team big time following last year’s appearance in the semifinals of the Class A State tournament in Great Falls.

The Maroons also had a couple of key players decide not to return to the team after last year’s 20-7 campaign.

As BC gets ready for next week’s Northwest vs. Southwest Class A Basketball Tip-off Tournament in Missoula, however, coach Meg Murphy is focused with the players she has on her roster. (Schedule, roster)

“I’ll never beg anybody to play,” the coach said while watching her young, shorthanded team practice Thursday night at the Maroon Activities Center.

Kloie Thatcher, a three-time All-State player, is now playing for Rocky Mountain College. Megan Michelotti, an all-conference first-team player, graduated along with all-conference classmate Olivia Bolton. Also lost to graduation is Kailee Murphy, who battled back from injury to close her career that began as a freshman playing varsity.

That leaves seniors Tricia Joyce and Bella Sorini and junior Emma Keeley as the only Maroons with substantial varsity time under their belts as the Maroons take on Columbia Falls and Browning.

Sorini missed most of last season after undergoing leg surgery in the fall of 2017.

Joyce averaged 6.5 points per game last season. Pretty much the rest of the BC scoring walked out the door.

So, calling this season a rebuilding year, is a bit of an understatement. The campaign begins next Friday when the Maroons play Columbia Falls at 12:45 p.m. BC plays Browning at 3:15 on Saturday.

The Maroons have just 13 players in the entire program. So, BC will not play a freshman schedule. Instead, they try to balance the players they do have to fill out lineups for varsity and junior varsity games.

“Never in my coaching career have I had that many kids,” Murphy said.

Nine of those 13 players are freshmen or sophomores.

Shea Davis, a senior post, has some varsity experience, as do sophomores Amira Bolton, Delaney Hasquet and Madison Kump.

The Maroons also look for varsity contributions from sophomores Avery Kelly and Taylor Harrington, and freshmen, Payton Hartwick, Brenna Foley, Rileigh McGree and Sofee Thatcher.

“They’re surprising me,” Murphy said of her players. “They work hard, which is a huge thing. They catch on to things really quickly, which is a huge plus.”

Murphy said she is far from settling on a starting lineup. Part of the problem is balancing the five quarters per day for her players can play so she can get two games out of so few players.

That means Thatcher might not start some games, even though her talent level is worthy of a start. She’ll probably have to play a quarter or two in the JV games.

“That really is going to change our starting lineup,” the coach said.

The numbers also change the practice routine. On Thursday, just 10 healthy players practiced, meaning nobody got a break from offensive and defensive drills.

“You can’t run them into the ground,” Murphy said. “You’ve got to keep them healthy.”

As the season goes on, however, Murphy expects her team to live up to the high standard of her program. She expects her team to compete.

“I believe that,” Murphy said. “I think in our conference we’ll be OK.”

Central will host the Southwestern A District tournament Feb. 14-16 at the MAC. Murphy said her team will be ready by then.

The Western A Divisional tournament is the following week in Hamilton. The Class A State tournament, which will be combined with the boys’ tournament this year, is March 7-9 in Great Falls.

“Our goal is to get out of the district tournament,” Murphy said. “If we can do that, we’ll be OK.”

Murphy, who has led the Maroons to two state championships, said her roster has the makings to do just that.

“With Tricia, Bella and Sophie, we have solid guard play,” Murphy said. “We’ve got kids who are quite capable. We’ve got some kids who can shoot. It’s just about working with them, developing and being patient.”

The Maroons, Murphy said, also appear to be a mentally tough bunch.

“I love them because they just come every day,” she said. “They haven’t complained.”

Central’s first home game is Dec. 14 against Frenchtown. That is the first of three straight home games.

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