MISSOULA — At long last, the Missoula Sentinel boys basketball team was able to take the court.
With the high school basketball season not starting until the beginning of January due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams around the state were delayed about a month from their usual times this season.
Sentinel felt those repercussions directly, as the Spartans had to shut operations down for two weeks in December due to positive COVID-19 tests. But once they took the court against Kalispell Flathead on Thursday, Sentinel breathed a sigh of relief to get a game under its belt while also demonstrating why there is plenty of excitement around this year's squad.
"We're lucky because we shut down for two weeks," first-year Sentinel coach Jason Maki said. "We're kind of lucky because we were sloppy the way it was, but it's January and we're finally playing basketball but that's the way it is all across the country. Some people haven't even started yet so we're going and here we go.
"These guys have been the most coachable, tight group. They’ve been awesome to have in practice every day, I’m excited to come coach them and they play team basketball and they work their butts off. They’ve just been a ton of fun to coach."
Maki, a 1990 Sentinel graduate who spent the previous 25 years coaching high school basketball in Oregon, takes over a Sentinel team that returns almost all of its talent from a season ago. The Spartans made the State AA tournament last season but went two-and-out. Sentinel last won the boys state title in 1986.
Sentinel's five starters return, including Montana State signee Alex Germer, who dropped 37 points in the season opener against Flathead. Returning all-conference performers Tony Frohlich-Fair and Hayden Kolb along with football standouts Soren Syvrud and TJ Rausch round out Sentinel's starters. Germer and Frohlich-Fair are entering their third year as starters for the Spartans.
Past that, Parker Lindsay returns after seeing significant minutes a season ago while Dayton Bay, Haiden Crews, Skye Palmer, Finn Beighle, Kaden Sheridan and Peyton Stevens all logged minutes for Sentinel in the opener to round out the bench depth.
With a number of football players from Sentinel's historic state championship now playing basketball, the Spartans hope that success carries over to the court as they enter this season as one of the favorites in Class AA.
"We kind of set those expectations ourselves after their football championship," Frohlich-Fair said. "They kind of came into the locker room and were like, 'We’re just going to do the same exact thing, just work hard, come in every day.' We have experience, more than a lot of teams just because we’ve had returning guys so just banking on that every night, using that to our advantage is probably our biggest strength we could have."
Frohlich-Fair scored 19 points against Flathead and added 16 to pace the Spartans on Saturday as they defeated Kalispell Glacier 61-52 to begin the season 2-0. Germer added 13 points while Kolb tallied 11.
For Maki, his first year at the helm has been anything but normal. But so far, coaching at his alma mater has had its perks now that things are finally underway.
"My coach was sitting at the scorer’s table, I’ve got a couple of teammates that were up in the stands who played here with me so it’s really neat to be back," Maki said. "It’s real exciting to be here and my family loves being here, so it’s been fun so far."
"It’s been really good (with Maki). Just at practice, going hard at each other every day, kind of picking up what he’s doing," Frohlich-Fair added. "He’s not having us do anything that we’re uncomfortable doing. He knows that we have some talent on the team and he’s trying to utilize that."