The Hellgate girls basketball team will look to end a 13-year state tournament drought - MTN Sports photo

MISSOULA – Another season is starting for the Missoula Hellgate Knights, and like many former Knights, the players are ready to end its current drought.

Hellgate last played in Montana’s state tournament during the 2002-03 season, when the Knights lost to Billings West in the championship game. Perhaps its best chance to make it back to the postseason may have been the last game it played. The Knights were the projected 3-seed, until Helena Capital pulled off a 45-43 upset that ended Hellgate’s season earlier than it had expected.

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Head coach Rob Henthorn is in his second season of coaching at Hellgate, and he likes the progress the team is seeing so far.

“We’ve had 7 great days of practice,” said Henthorn. “The thing that’s going well is we’re ahead of the game from where we were last year. The girls know the offense, the girls know the defense. They kind of know how each other plays.”

“It’s always hard getting a new coach but it’s nice to have the same coaching staff this year,” added Kaci Paffhausen, one of the Knights’ senior forwards. Hellgate will need every last bit of continuity it can find. The team returns eight seniors, though five of the seniors have not suited up in a varsity uniform yet in their playing careers.

“It’s definitely going to be a learning year for us, and just getting used to playing together and working as a team,” Paffhausen said.

“You know it’s two-fold,” said coach Henthorn. “We have a lot of seniors, but we don’t have a lot of seniors that have played together. [We’re] heavy in the senior load, lots of experience, but also lots of room to get better.”

Hellgate opens its season Friday night at Frenchtown.