CHURCHILL – When people think high school basketball in Montana, champions like Great Falls CMR, the undefeated Three Forks Lady Wolves, and Arlee come to mind. But one high school powerhouse has flown under the radar, the Gallatin Valley Homeschool Cougars.

The Cougars don’t have some of the luxuries public schools have. They don’t spend eight hours a day together or have their own gym to practice in, so they have to work that much harder.

“Some of our practices we usually start at 6 in the morning or 6:30 in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said Daniel Westlake. “So we kind of have to be dedicated enough to get up at 5:30 a.m. to get to practice every week.”

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“I appreciate how hard they work. They’ve put in a lot of time on and off the court,” said Cougars head coach Mecklen Davis. “They put in a lot of hours outside of just the practices that we have, and I have to appreciate that.”

But that dedication has paid off. Under Davis, who played two seasons at Montana State as a guard from 2006-2008, Gallatin Valley has been to the league’s state title game the past three years, losing to Stillwater twice before taking home its first championship this February.

“It’s the best feeling you can have ever, you lose two in a row and you’re really down. Then you come back and you just have amazing joy, it’s great,” said senior Nathan Behr.

At the King of the Hill tournament in Churchill over the weekend, the Cougars went 3-2, but they had some dominant wins, proving they can play with anyone in the state.

“People say, ‘Home school? Easy, easy team to beat,'” said Behr. “But we just got to show that we can beat these teams and we can compete at a higher level than we are. We’re a home-school team, but we can compete at their level, as well. We work just as hard as them and we can play just as well as them, too.”

But the grind is just started: The Cougars are getting ready for the winter season with one thing in mind.

“When we talked last summer we said we wanted to win two state championships,” said Davis. “One was not going to be enough because we lost two, so we had to balance it out. Our mission is definitely to win a second one. That’s definitely the goal.”

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