DEER LODGE — Ozzie King's first trip to the State B boys basketball tournament was filled with some early nerves.
"It was a little jittery," King, now a senior, said at a recent Deer Lodge practice as he reflected back to March. "Got used to it after the first game, though. It was a fun experience, for sure."
Last season, King was a member of the first Wardens squad to punch a state ticket since 2012. He was also part of the first Deer Lodge boys team to win a game at state in 22 years.
King and his teammates are ready to pick up where they left off.
"All of us are excited," King said. "Intensity at practice, it's all great. We're excited to get back out there and play."
The word "disappointment" has become a prevailing 2020 theme and the Wardens weren't immune.
After a narrow 38-35 loss to Three Forks in the opening round of the state tournament, Deer Lodge rallied back in the consolation bracket to topple Colstrip and clinch the Wardens' first win at state since the 1990s.
Deer Lodge was set to face Rocky Boy in the consolation semifinals with a shot at playing for a third-place trophy on the line. But we all know what unfolded on Friday, March 13.
"You know, we understood the decision. It stunk," said Deer Lodge head coach Dakota Norris. "I think our players have handled it extremely well. It made our younger kids a little hungrier."
And the Wardens' upperclassmen are eager to get the season under way, as well.
"It feels great," said King about returning to the court. "Doing nothing all summer and winter and fall, to be back on the court again, it's fun. Practice is intense."
Last season didn't end the way the Wardens hoped, but they still set a foundation for future success. They're ready to pick up where they left off.
"I know our parents, they've been itching to get back into the gym and watch them," Norris said. "I know our kids, that's all they can think about, is getting into it. I think that's the excitement that these kids over here have."