MISSOULA — With basketball season now completed in Montana, history was made at Missoula Loyola Sacred Heart High School, as the Rams won the school's first boys state championship over Malta.
It capped a remarkable run for Loyola, who last year was middle of the pack at 11-10, but had a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing big minutes, meaning all of that experience paid off for those kids when they returned this season.
"I think just the adversity that the school year gave us last year, our community kind of banded together even more than it ever had," Loyola senior guard Jack Fines said. "A lot of these younger kids have played together throughout their younger seasons and so they already had that chemistry. After that we all came together as one family and we all played together and hung out during the summer and worked on our game, and I think that's why we were able to achieve this."
The Rams (25-1) lost just one game this season and it was to Class A Columbia Falls. But in Class B, they breezed through most of the competition before getting challenged at the state tournament.
After wins over Lodge Grass and Wolf Point to start the tournament, the Rams beat Malta in the State B championship game, cementing their first title.
"It was good. Us being so young, I kind of think we thought we weren't going to be 100% as good as we were but going into it, I think we had great seniors that helped us along the way," junior guard Talen Reynolds said. "It was good, it was fun."
The win also marked the first state championship for Scott Anderson, the team's coach.
Anderson went to school at Loyola, was a long-time assistant and eventually the head coach of the Rams for 24 years, and he returned last year to guide the team, making it almost four decades worth of time put into Loyola's basketball program.
Now, he saw all of that work finally lead to a championship.
"We were just thinking back of all the wonderful years that we just couldn't get over the hump. So this is pretty special for me, for the kids, for the school," Anderson said. "Now we can win, so that was big. I felt like a jinx, I don't know what it was, but it was really cool to finally win that one."
The Rams aren't expecting to go anywhere either.
They graduate just two seniors in Raef Konzen and Fines and return most of their core players, and next season starts now as their goal is to go on a special run in their time at Loyola.
"I think just staying who we are right now," junior forward Noah Haffey said. "We had some kids injured that didn't play all year, so we're gaining just as much as we're losing. Improving with time as everyone does, but being the team we were this year, I think can lead to us once again having a great possibility at state next year."