The Westby-Grenora boys basketball team celebrates at last year's state tournament in Great Falls. (MTN Sports photo)

Westby-Grenora hasn’t existed for long, but the Thunder have shown they belong in the ranks of the top Class C basketball programs in the state.

The program has competed on Saturday night at the state tournament in each of the past four seasons, with two runner-up finishes. The Thunder will certainly be a favorite to earn another berth from the Eastern C but a handful of other teams will try to make their journey difficult.

League coaches like Fairview, Brockton, Savage and Plentywood to compete for a district trophy while the division offers teams like Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale and Scobey.

Below is a quick breakdown on the Eastern C Divisional. MTN Sports did not receive questionnaires from teams not listed.

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Culbertson Cowboys

Record in 2015-16: 18-9
Tournament finish: State tournament appearance
Head coach: Cody Steppler
Years with program: 6th
Overall record: N/A

Culbertson doesn’t return any starters from last year’s team that made a run to the state tournament. Six seniors graduated, so it’ll be a new look for the Cowboys.

“We are a young team with very little experience after graduating a tough senior class,” said sixth-year coach Cody Steppler. “I look for us to be a deep team that should be competitive throughout the season.”

Dodson Coyotes

Record in 2015-16: 2-18
Tournament finish: Did not qualify for divisionals
Head coach: Frank Benson
Years with program: 1st year (Coached in Dodson 2005-2006 season)
Overall record: 70 – 62

Prior to last season the Dodson Coyotes had not won a game in two years. In 2015-16, the program’s sole goal was to win at least one game and they were able to win two.
One of the biggest challenges to Montana’s Class C towns is dwindling populations affecting the
number of athletes that can participate. This certainly holds true for the Coyotes.
The team does return three starters this season with 5-foot-7 sophomore Tyrese Messerly joining juniors David Jaynes and Jasper Doney. Messerly averaged nearly five points per game his freshman season.
Senior Trevor Shortman will be the only upperclassmen, while freshmen Corbain Lonebear and Shaun Ball will also see minutes for Benson’s Coyotes.

Fairview Warriors

Record in 2015-16: 19-4
Tournament finish: Did not qualify for state
Head coach: Ryan Kopp
Years with program: 7 total, 2nd as head coach
Overall record: 19-4

Entering the season the Fairview boys hadn’t lost a home game since 2012 and the Warriors have turned that homecourt advantage into postseason runs.
Fairview has competed in four of the last five Class C state tournaments, playing on Saturday night in each. The Warriors won the state title in 2012 and finished second, fourth and fourth in the other appearances.

This year the Warriors return three starters, all seniors, and will try to give second-year coach Ryan Kopp his first trip to the state tournament.
6-foot-2 forward Pat Hardy was a first team all-conference selection a season ago and figures to be an integral part of the team’s offense. Teammate Tanner Reynolds was also all-conference and is highly regarded for his defensive abilities.

Taryn Candee is another senior who started last season and will also contribute.

Nashua Porcupines

Record in 2015-16: 3-17
Tournament finish: Did not qualify for divisionals, state
Head coach: Kirk Sibley
Years with program: 8

The Nashua Porcupines finished the season with only three wins last year, but this season the team will return three seniors – Nolan Viste and Dalton Kautz are the senior guards, while Chase Williams will be hanging out in the paint. The trio already knows how to play well together and will be key for Sibley this season.

Gavin Adkins, a guard, came off the bench a season ago and will be relied on to step up his game. Dylan Sanner and Sawyer Sibley give the Porcupines a strong rotation as well.

Saco-Whitewater-Hinsdale Mavericks

Record in 2015-16: N/A
Tournament finish: Did not qualify for divisionals, state
Head coach: Barry Malone
Years with program: 1 (7 years as coach of Saco)

The Mavericks return four starters this season, setting the bar high for the team known as ‘North Country’ in 2017.

Senior Cache Younkin was all-conference a year ago as was Trace Simonson, who enters his junior campaign. Logan McColly is another senior expected to contribute on each end of the floor.
Sophomore John McColly will also be called upon throughout the year.

The Mavericks finished fourth in District 3C last year and aim to advance to the divisional tournament in February.

Westby-Grenora Thunder

Record in 2015-16: 25-3
Tournament finish: 4th at state
Head coach: Chad Solberg
Years with program: 7
Overall record: 109-46

Westby-Grenora has been one of the most consistent teams in Class C over the past four seasons, finishing runner-up twice (2013, 2014), third place once (2015) and fourth place last season.
Solberg has built a perennial power in the east and that trend should continue into 2017.

Three seniors graduated from last year’s Saturday night team – Kevin Rust, Cleve Garman and Allan Ekness – but all-state guard Daulton Holecek will be the “recognized floor leader” for the Thunder per Solberg.

Solberg also says Kade Guenther, another senior, has the talent to be all-state. The 6-foot-2 guard-forward showcased his athleticism during football season this past fall.
Westby-Grenora will also look to Bruce Carter, a 6-foot-3 junior, to contribute this season. Solberg credits Carter for coming on strong during last season’s state tournament and believes he could be one of the top players in the Eastern C Division.