Missoula Sentinel freshman Lexi Deden scores a layup against Stevensville. (MTN Sports photo)

Less than a month after capping an undefeated season with a Class AA volleyball championship, the Missoula Sentinel girls are the favorites to win the Western AA conference crown in basketball.

Karen Deden has led the Lady Spartans to Saturday night at the state tournament in five of the last six seasons, including three straight titles from 2012-2014.

Helena High and Kalispell Glacier could be the biggest challengers to Sentinel in the Western AA this season.

Below is a breakdown from each team in the Western AA. MTN Sports did not receive completed questionnaires from the teams not listed.

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Helena Capital Lady Bruins

Record in 2015-16: 15-11
Tournament finish: 4th at state
Head coach: Bill Pilgeram
Years with program: 10
Overall record: 152-74 (95-75 as Capital boys coach)

Helena Capital was four points away from a trophy at last year’s state tournament, falling 36-33 to Missoula Sentinel in the consolation game. The state champions in 2015, the Lady Bruins are again expected to make a trip to the final weekend, this year in Great Falls.

Bill Pilgeram returns only two starters from last year’s program as senior Mary Bryggman suffered an injury that will sideline her for the entire season. Sydney Sheridan, who provided a spark off the bench as a freshman a year ago, joins Taylor Sullivan as the athletes with the most experience.

While no returning Lady Bruins earned all-state or all-conference honors, six athletes are letter winners from last year. Sullivan, a 6-foot-2 post, should give defenses fits with her size while Pilgeram will likely tinker with the roster in the early season.

Besides Bryggman, three seniors are listed on the Capital roster – Shelby VanHemelryck, Aryn Cummings and Shea Sampson. Junior Kacie Gross is a transfer with the Lady Bruins this year.

Helena High Lady Bengals

Record in 2015-16: 13-9
Tournament finish: 0-2 at state
Head coach: Eric Peterson
Years with program: 4
Overall record: 33-41

If any team is experienced enough to challenge Missoula Sentinel in the Western AA, it could be Helena High. Eric Peterson returns four starters from last year’s state tournament team, which lost Shanna Floerchinger to graduation.

Junior Kamden Hilborn earned all-state honors for Peterson’s Lady Bengals at the point guard position, while Taelyr Krantz, a 6-foot senior, was honorable mention all-conference in 2015-16.

Hilborn will be joined on the wing by returning starters Hailey Crawford, one of the team’s top defenders, and Kendra Kloker. Peterson’s starting five will stand 5-foot-7 and up.

Sophomore Jamie Pickens will replace Floerchinger in the post. Pickens, a 6-foot-2 athletic center, is expected to make an impact on each end of the floor.

Sam Holman (5-foot-8 senior) and Jessica Ellsworth (5-foot-11 senior) will also contribute for the Lady Bengals this winter.

Kalispell Glacier Lady Wolfpack

Record in 2015-16: 12-9
Tournament finish: Did not qualify
Head coach: Bill Sullivan
Years with program: First
Overall record: 0-0

Kalispell Glacier enters the Bill Sullivan era this winter with high expectations from conference opponents. Western AA coaches choose the Lady Wolfpack to finish in the top half of the league this season.

Nikki Krueger will be the go-to player for Glacier this season. The Carroll College commit stands 6-foot-1 and was an honorable mention all-conference selection last year.

“Nikki returns as the most experienced player. She has tremendous ability and will contribute in many ways,” Sullivan said.

Krueger is joined by returning starters Ahna Kreitenger and Anna Schrade, each of whom Sullivan called “talented.” Cadie Williams, Brynn McChesney, Courtney Mitchell, Maddie Rauthe, McKenna Hulslander and Ellie Stevens will all see playing time for the Lady Wolfpack.

Kalispell Flathead Bravettes

Record in 2015-16: 4-17
Tournament finish: Did not qualify
Head coach: Tricia Dean
Years with program: First
Overall record: 0-0

Tricia Dean takes over the Kalispell Flathead program this winter, aiming to guide the Bravettes to their first state tournament appearance since 2013.

Tiana Johnson, a 6-foot-2 guard who has committed to Sacramento State, was named second team all-conference the past two seasons and will be the leader of the Bravettes this winter. She is joined by teammates Kylee Meredith (5-foot-5 guard) and Kelsey Gillespie (5-foot-7 guard) on the perimeter for Dean-Samson.

Sierra Siblerud is another experienced athlete who will provide quality minutes this season.

Missoula Sentinel Lady Spartans

Record in 2015-16:
Tournament finish: 3rd at state
Head coach: Karen Deden
Years with program: 17

Widely considered the standard for girls Class AA basketball over the past 10 years, Missoula Sentinel could be the favorites to cut down the net in March. Karen Deden returns four starters from a team that finished third last year in Bozeman.

Jordyn Schweyen was named to the all-state tournament team after the Lady Spartans edged Helena Capital in the consolation, while Kylie Frohlich was a first team all-state honoree.

The juniors will be joined by senior Bronwyn McCormick and sophomore Shelby Schweyen again in the starting lineup.

Deden will also look to senior Syd Steele, juniors Kayla Daily and Lauren Bingham, as well as Grace Stayner, Emma Blakely and Lexi Deden to contribute to this year’s roster. Deden calls the team “very young with lots of room for improvement.”

The program did lose Shannon Worster as the all-state guard transferred to Frenchtown.

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