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'We want team success': No. 1 Missoula Loyola achieving greater heights in run at Class B repeat

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Posted at 6:48 PM, Jan 31, 2024

MISSOULA — The Missoula Loyola Sacred Heart Rams had a run to remember last season, as they brought the school its first boys state basketball championship.

Expectations were through the roof to enter this season as Loyola brought nearly everyone back and lost only two seniors from last year's run, but the argument could be made they've been even better than expected in this attempt at a repeat.

"It’s been a very fun one, you know, 13-0, hopefully we can, you know, keep it undefeated, win state yet again," senior Noah Haffery said. "But it's been great. It's been great."

And the Rams aren't just 13-0, it's 13-0 and almost no one has come close to even being competitive with them.

Loyola, a mainstay at No. 1 in the MontanaSports.com rankings, has just one win by single digits this year, a 60-55 victory over Class A Havre on Dec. 16.

The rest? Blowout after blowout, as the Rams have won by an average margin of victory of 38 points per game. Eight of the team's 13 wins have come by 40 or more points.

"I think we tried to get some challenges early in the year, see where we're at, test ourselves, played a couple of A schools, traveled all around, didn't have many home games," junior Ethan Stack said. "But yeah, it's kind of see who we are coming off of pretty high season last year."

Under head coach Scott Anderson, the Rams entered the season with a target on their back after going 25-1 last year en route to winning the Class B state championship, but they haven't rested on their laurels and have taken their game to a new level.

"Something that is special about us is that we don't really have any big egos on our team, like everyone, we all have confidence in each other and that we believe we want team success, not personal success," junior Rey Johnston said. "Like if I'm having a bad night, but Noah is hitting and Noah gets 30, I'm not gonna be down in the dumps because, you know, I had like, five points. I'm gonna be happy because Noah had 30. Just wanna see each other succeed."

And that style of play shows, as Loyola's ball movement, free-flowing offense and relentless defense makes it a fun team to watch, and a more difficult team to beat. The Rams average about 79 points per game.

"I think we understand how good we are," Haffey said. "But also, we know that, you know, any given night, any team can beat us, but also we (could) beat ourselves. So not getting ahead of ourselves, not getting too much of an ego, just kind of play within ourselves. And I think it's helping us, you know, simplify our game."

"We had kids coming off the bench, a couple of injuries last year held us back slightly," Stack added. "But we know we had roles to fill, and we had guys to fill those roles. So we knew we could make something happen for sure. And I don't think anybody quite expected it like this. But we're happy with where we're at."

Haffey, Stack and Johnston were all key components to Loyola's team a season ago, as were many others on this year's squad. The Rams sport four seniors with Carter Topp, Talen Reynolds and Taylor Jones joining Haffey. Other guys like juniors Declan Harrington and Jack Clevenger were integral parts a season ago, while junior Braden McGuirl and sophomore Finn Haffey have been able to contribute and sophomore Jamo Kendrick has been inserted as a starter after missing last season with injury.

It's been another special run for the Rams, one they hope ends in history once again come March.

"After we swing the ball like five times when someone hits a 3 and we all go, 'Boom!' All like each other, all the smiles and stuff. We're enjoying every single minute of it, you know?" Johnston said. "The love we have for each other and the brotherhood we've built through the past couple years is just special. You can't really find that I feel like at most schools and I think that's what leads to our winning culture."