By Danny Waldo
Unlike the college game, high school basketball often spends the early part of the year acclimating new players to the rigors of varsity competition, defining new roles and installing elements of a game plan that will evolve over the course of the season. In most cases, high school teams must replace the bulk of their roster each season, and use the early games to determine starting lineups and rotations before games really start to matter.
Such was the case for both the Bozeman boys’ and girls’ basketball teams as each competed in five contests prior to the Winter Break, and while each learned a lot about themselves, both feel ready for conference play when the high school season resumes on January 3rd.
For head coach Wes Holmquist, the calendar may turn to a new year each season, but for the past three years the results have been the same, a second place finish at the Class AA state tournament.
This year, Holmquist’s crew has their sites set on finishing the job, led by seniors Ryan Simpson and Ryan Lonergan. Both Ryan’s played major roles in Bozeman’s runner-up finish a year ago, and after coming up short again during football season, both would like to go out on top to end their tenure at Bozeman High.
The Hawks have faced some stiff competition to start the 2018-19 season, but Bozeman has raced out to a 4-1 record and Top 5 ranking heading into January. Bozeman’s lone loss was a home loss to state title favorite Missoula Hellgate prior to Winter Break. It was a tale of two halves as Bozeman built a double-digit lead in the first half only to watch Hellgate rally in the second half to escape with a hard fought victory.
Bozeman entered the break on a high note after surviving a grueling two-day road trip at Kalispell-Glacier and Missoula Sentinel, sweeping the two Western AA foes in their final tune ups before hitting the road again at Billings West on January 3rd.
The Eastern AA appears rugged again as defending state champion Great Falls CMR is 5-0, back-to-back state champion Billings Skyview is 4-1, and Great Falls High is 4-1 as well. Those three, along with Bozeman comprise four of the top five teams in the state.
For Erika Gustavsen’s Lady Hawks a third place finish at last season’s state tournament felt more like a state championship. That’s because few expected much out of Bozeman after the graduation of a number of seniors who had contributed to the Hawks last state championship.
Bozeman found its stride at the right time and played some of its most inspired basketball in battling through the loser’s bracket to take the consolation title in Billings last March.
Bozeman once again has a largely inexperienced group again this season, and a difficult opening stretch has the Hawks sitting at 2-3 heading into a pivotal conference opener versus Billings West to begin the new year. So far Bozeman has faced two-time defending state champion Helena, title contender Helena Capital and a scrappy Kalispell-Glacier team, along with two-time state runner-up Missoula Sentinel in its first five games.
Against Capital and Helena High, Bozeman appeared overmatched, but the Hawks had Glacier on the ropes in a home loss, and completely dominated Missoula Sentinel to close out the 2018 portion of their schedule. The victory over Sentinel has Bozeman feeling confident going into its matchup with Billings West on January 3rd. The Bears are playing some of the best basketball in the state right now, and that game should serve as a good litmus test for where Bozeman stands heading down the stretch in the Eastern AA.
For a complete schedule of Bozeman High basketball games, log on to the district website at www.bsd7.org and select the ‘Activities’ tab.