Basketball, wrestling teams gear up for successful seasons

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As soon as high school students hung up their cleats and volleyball pads, basketball practice started with tournaments this weekend. Basketball players will be at the Western C Tip Off Tournament in Frenchtown on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Meanwhile, wrestlers will be at the Owen Invite, hosted by Polson.

Clark Fork Mountain Cats head wrestling coach Charlie Crabb is optimistic going into this season with approximately 13 grapplers. Three of his seniors graduated last year, and three freshman came up to join the team. There are no seniors this year, “They’re all juniors and younger,” he said, “which is good because we will have these guys for a few years.”

Last year, he took five to state and he hopes to take all 13 this year. “With our division, experience-wise and things like that, we should do all right and be in the thick of things,” he said. “We are at a point where we have a pretty good chance of bringing something home.”

Last time the team “brought something home” from state was three years ago with a third place trophy. Team members who traveled to Billings last year for state were able to experience the vastness of the tournament. An arena which holds a crowd of 16,000 with nearly 16 mats spread over the floor where Classes A through C compete.

“It’s a big deal,” he said, “and it can be overwhelming. Now that some of the team has experienced it, they should do better this year.”

This includes junior Isaiah Kovalsky, who tied the Superior School record last year with 24 pins. Along with Trey Green and Kyler Francis, who were close to placing last year at state. Another talented junior is Wes Buchanan, and Crabb said Jake Lapinski has returned to the team. Lapinski wrestled in middle school but quit after a bad break in his foot and ankle. “Now he’s back and we’re pretty excited about that,” he said.

In Clark Fork basketball, head Coach Erik Johnson has 18 players out this year for the boys’ team, with seven returning from last season. This number includes five foreign exchange students from Vietnam, Denmark, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan. Additionally, they have six new players to the program.

Returning players include seniors Michael Spence and Korey Radford along with juniors Hewston Coon and Javen Hughes. Plus Aaron Waddle, Bryan Mask, Carson Callison, and Danner Haskins are all sophomores with significant varsity experience. Also returning is assistant coach John Petersen.

“We are really excited about our potential this year,” Johnson said. “We have a really good, strong core group. This is a first in a long time that we have this much confidence in our experience.”

This core group of players know the Mountain Cat system. “They have matured together as players and we have one of the tallest teams in our conference this year, and we may be the fastest. We pass and shoot well,” he said.

The team will focus its attention on defense this season. “If we can force turnovers and own the defensive rebounding advantage, look out!” Johnson said. “I feel spoiled as a coach this season. We have struggled with our co-op for four seasons with experience, athleticism, depth, skill and size. I believe we have eight players whom our opponents would be wise to concern themselves. They are fun to coach and fun to watch.”

He also pointed out his sophomores, Aaron, Bryan, Carson and Danner, are “ABCD,” even their names line up for a winning season.

On the west end of the county, the St. Regis Lady Tigers basketball team has 12 girls hitting the court creating a varsity and junior varsity team. There are two returning seniors this year, Emma Hill and Madison Kelly, along with one new senior, Kimberlynn Parsons. There is also two juniors — returning player Kylee Thompson, and Ashley Wilson as well as seven freshmen: Kiya Taylor, Makaela Kelly, Baylee Pruitt, Rylie Burnham, Sunny Shoupe, Taylor Hurd and Karmen Alexander.

Though it is a younger team, there are four returning starters, “and so we will also be experienced,” said head coach Brooks Sanford. “Our goal is to win a district championship and we believe we can achieve that goal. We will play physical, play fast, have good floor spacing, good ball movement, and take open shots with confidence.”

Tyler Cheesman will join Sanford as assistant coach.

On the boys’ side of Tiger basketball, head coach Jesse Allan is hoping for seven players this year. He hopes to bring up two eighth-grade boys after their junior high season ends in mid-December. With one returning senior, James Booker, there will be three freshman, one sophomore and two juniors to round out the team.

“All but one have some varsity experience,” he said. “We have matured and grown a lot from last year to this year. The kids have really worked hard over the summer lifting weights and we played in four tournaments. Obviously, low numbers will be tough managing fouls and fatigue but our kids understand what it will take to compete and they are ready for the challenge.”

Allan will be looking at sharing the basketball and playing tough defensively. “Each of our kids has the ability to stand out and I think that will be evident throughout this season game to game,” he said.

As of last week the team was still searching for an assistant coach.

Head coach Jeff Schultz was unavailable regarding his Lady Mountain Cats team.

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