MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel's boys basketball team has lived up to the highly anticipated billing the Spartans carried into 2021 with a 10-0 start to the season.
The success was two, even three years, in the making, as the Spartans endured growing pains with players in the program thrown into starting roles at a young age.
Three players who saw starter's minutes out of the gates as sophomores were Alex Germer, Tony Frohlich-Fair and Hayden Kolb. The trio has seen the ups and downs of the program as Sentinel has built itself into a State AA contender in 2021.
"The most special part is everything is building together from sophomore year to junior year," said Germer, a Montana State signee. "We’re just maturing more, our bodies are developing more and we’re now the top dog. We’re mentally there, we’re physically there, and all of our skills and work in the offseason is really paying off."
Heading into Sentinel's game against Helena Capital this past Saturday, Germer was averaging 24 points and and 5.8 rebounds per game while shooting at a 50.8% clip from the field and 40% mark from deep. Frohlich-Fair is averaging 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists for the Spartans while Kolb rounds out the group at 8.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 4 assists per contest.
With the win over the Bruins, the Spartans hit the 10-win milestone in the ever-challenging 2021 season.
But its a culmination from where the Spartans have grown with their current core, which as a whole features 10 seniors, five of whom including Soren Syvrud and TJ Rausch are also returning starters from last season. Germer and Kolb saw varsity time as freshmen in 2017-18 when Sentinel earned the top seed out of the Western AA. The two were then thrown into starting roles as sophomores the following year as the program began to build itself around a new group.
Frohlich-Fair's route was different as he moved to Missoula from Oregon ahead of his sophomore season. Still, he too was thrown right in as a starter as a sophomore, and while the growing pains were there, doing so alongside players of similar age and class in school made the challenge easier.
"I think it’s really special because we’ve had this starting five since our seventh grade year and and actually getting that chance to finally push for that state championship which we’ve always wanted," Kolb said. "Having people like Alex, Soren and TJ who I've played with forever (made it easier), then having Tony come in and us four showing him what we do and how we do it, I think it really helped him and he really helped us together."
"In practice we're playing against each other all the time," Germer added. "They're great players and it really builds us to push each other because we all want minutes and want to play the most, but we're pushing each other in practice every day and that makes it easier during games."
The growth has steadily been there from year to year resulting in the perfect season so far. But the task ahead is still a challenging one for the Spartans. Like Sentinel football in the fall, the boys basketball program is looking to snap a long drought without a state title, the last coming in 1986. In fact, the last time Sentinel advanced past the first round at the State AA tournament was 2010.
"Junior year, I thought we were continuing to grow at a good pace but I think we were lacking some things like defensively and just like our attitudes towards the game of basketball," Frohlich-Fair said. "We weren’t working as hard as we could have every play, every game, so I think that was kind of transitioning into this year. Working hard, we put that discipline into ourselves after the football guys, we saw how well that worked for them. So just kind of following their lead. At Sentinel as a whole, everybody knows everybody, so with athletics in general, I think everybody has really put hard work in and that's been good for us and everybody here.
"This year has been amazing. The chemistry is amazing so I think just growing and having experience playing with each other the past three years is finally coming together which is what we've all been striving and working for."
"When we set goals, not only did they know what their goals were, they knew what we had to do to reach those goals and that’s rare that kids know the work that needs to be done and they could actually verbalize what we needed to do and those three are a big part of that," first-year Sentinel coach Jason Maki added. "They've seen successes and failures and they know what they want and how to get it."