The ending of the 2020 Montana high school basketball season left a bitter taste in the mouths of the Scobey Spartans.
Scobey boys were named Class C co-champions along with rival Fairview after the State C tournament was canceled following the semifinal games. Scobey had defeated Fairview twice prior to the state tournament, including a 23-point win in the Eastern C title game, but the Spartans never got the opportunity to finish off the Warriors a third time for a solo state championship.
“It stuck with me ever since that night in March. I’ve thought about it quite often. There’s nothing you can do about it now, it just makes you hungry for this year," said Scobey senior Caden Handran.
“We knew what was ours last year, and we didn’t get a chance to show that," added fellow senior Aidan Fishell. "We really want to prove that we can do the same thing with this team this year. We lost one guy and he was a beast, but it stuck with all of us that are still on the team. We’re returning nine guys and I think the whole team feels the same thing that we did in March and we just want to get to the same spot we did last year with a different outcome.”
While it’s a new year, the expectations around the Scobey basketball team are still sky high. The Spartans lost just one starter, Brayden Cromwell, and return a core group of four seniors that has been playing together for years. Handran, Fishell, Jayce Tande and Parker Cromwell have been three-year starters for Scobey head coach Jason Wolfe and all four were all-state selections last season. In their swan song, that group is looking to add more hardware to the Spartans’ trophy case.
Scobey has made four consecutive trips to the State C tournament. The Spartans have two third-place finishes, a fourth-place finish and last year's co-championship.
“It’s a little bit of a benefit because we’re going to have a month’s worth of practice, but at the same time we’re going to have to jam a full 18-game schedule in the two months after Christmas," Wolfe said. "It’s really nice to have that experience. These guys have really been in the program since they were in third grade. They were managers for me. They’re familiar with what we do. They certainly have a lot of gym time in, so we’re excited to have that experience back.”
“There was a few times last year when one of us made a mistake, I’d make a mistake on defense, a guy turns his back to the ball and a guy cuts and you look back there and they throw the ball right behind you and there’s a guy on your team, like Parker, Jayce or Aidan there to help you out. It doesn’t even look bad on your part because they’re there. It looks like it’s supposed to happen,” said Handran.
That kind of chemistry and continuity makes Scobey the odds-on favorite, but the Eastern C isn’t going to be a walk in the park for Scobey. Defending co-champion Fairview lost double-digit seniors from last year’s squad and could go through a bit of a rebuilding phase this year, but one team to keep an eye on is Froid-Medicine Lake.
The 6-Man football state champion Redhawks are going to give teams all they can handle on the hardwood this season, too, as they bring back three all-conference players in senior Colt Miller and juniors Javonne Nesbit and Bode Miller. Add in dynamic freshman Mason Dethman and Froid-Medicine Lake has all the necessary pieces to make a deep postseason run.
Outside of the Eastern C, Scobey will keep its eyes on teams like Belt, Fort Benton and Chinook in the North, but Wolfe said not to count out Manhattan Christian, even though the Eagles have lost some prolific offensive weapons over the past few years. But the Spartans know that they won’t see any of those teams until they handle the business in front of them first.
“Med-Lake, I think, for sure. They got some guys that are pretty good. I think they’d give anyone a run for their money on the other side of the state. But Manhattan Christian always finds a way," Handran said.
“Chinook, they’re tough. They’ve got a really good guard and a good big kid and they play through each other. They have a few other athletes and some shooters," Fishell said. "I’d say we’ll probably see them sometime at the state tournament, but we’re just going to take it one day of practice at a time, and hopefully none of this gets canceled. We’re not taking anything for granted and just one day at a time trying to get better.”
“We talk about the overall goals, but at the same time they understand that we’ve got a tough league over here in our division, and that’s really what our focus is on in the short term. Then just keep our eyes on the long term as we move through the season," said Wolfe.
The expectations are lofty in Scobey, and rightfully so. You can bet you’ll see the Spartans playing late in the high school basketball season once again.