The Belt girls basketball team is the favorite to win repeat as Class C state champions. (MTN Sports photo)

Four of the eight teams at the Class C girls basketball state tournament are back for at least their consecutive year: Arlee, Belt, Broadview-Lavina and Froid-Lake. Three of the others – Harlowton, Roy-Winifred and Twin Bridges – are no strangers to the postseason. And then there’s Savage, which is making the first state tournament appearance in program history.

The two teams everyone has had their eyes on during the 2016-17 season are on the same side of the bracket, staring down a potential semifinal matchup. Belt, which has finished fourth or better at state the past nine seasons, is the defending champion and opens up against Froid-Lake. Twin Bridges, which lost to Belt in the 2012 state championship game, is the only undefeated team remaining in the class. The Falcons kick off the tournament with their first-round game against Broadview-Lavina.

Froid-Lake is back for the second straight year. The Redhawks lost only one game during the regular season, but were upset at the district tournament. They still qualified for the Eastern C divisional tournament, where they reached the championship game, only to lose to Savage. Froid-Lake has some talented underclassmen, so a bright future has turned into a solid present. Arlee, which beat Froid-Lake in the first round of last year’s state tournament, is also back. The Scarlets gave undefeated Twin Bridges all it could handle at this year’s Western C divisional team, so they’re certainly a team to watch this week at Belgrade.

Harlowton and Broadview-Lavina were Southern C staples at the state tournament for a number of years, but only the Pirates qualified for state last year. The script flipped this year, as Harlowton won all four meetings between the teams, including the district and divisional championships. Both teams will be at Belgrade looking to improve upon the South’s lackluster showing last year, when the division won only one of four games.

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Roy-Winifred is making its first trip to the state tournament since 2010, but there’s some tradition with this program. Well before the schools co-opped, Winifred won three state championships in four years, winning titles in 1993, 1995 and 1996. The current Outlaws have been stuck behind Winnett-Grass Range (in the old District 7C) and now Belt in District 8C, but they got past the Rams this year, knocking them off in a semifinal game at the Northern C divisional tournament.

Roy-Winifred will play Savage in the first round Thursday. The Warriors ran the gauntlet at the Eastern C tournament, defeating one of the tournament favorites, Scobey, in overtime in the first round, then knocking off a good Plentywood team in the semifinals before holding off Froid-Lake in the championship. Savage flew under the radar during the regular season, but the Warriors have proven their mettle with an impressive postseason run thus far.

BRACKET

Best first-round game: Savage vs. Roy-Winifred. This figures to be a grind-it-out slugfest between two solid teams who have demonstrated their defensive prowess in recent weeks.

Biggest surprise: Savage. The Warriors certainly proved they belong by beating the best teams at the Eastern C divisional tournament, but not many people saw this coming after the district tournament, where Savage finished fourth.

Favorite: Belt. Under coach Jeff Graham, Belt has become the gold standard for Class C girls basketball. The Huskies will take everyone’s best shot.

Darkhorse: Arlee. The Scarlets were just five points away from playing for the state championship last year and bring back a team more than capable of reaching the final this year.

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