BELGRADE — First-year head coach Erin Nolte has brought the Belgrade Panthers girls basketball program into a new era. The 2019-20 season marks the first year the Panthers are playing in Class AA. While it’s certainly been a learning process so far, the Panthers are ready to embrace what lies ahead.
“So far it’s been interesting. We were able to compete with Butte, and (Missoula) Hellgate was very competitive, they were very deep," Nolte said. "But I think we have talent here, so I think we just have to work on the little things. We have to practice hard and we have to work on being competitive every day in practice.”
With a jump in class comes a jump in the level of competition. With schools like Bozeman, Great Falls and Billings West all on the horizon, senior Sophia Flikkema understands what it will take to compete with the best of the best.
“We’ve definitely had to become more physical as a team, quicker and stronger," said Flikkema. "I think we’ve just worked really hard at practice, just getting us stronger, which will definitely help.”
In the early part of the season, the Panthers feel they haven’t received a certain level of respect from the other Class AA teams.
“I think we’re always going to be underestimated, but we can work that to our advantage at some point. So, we go into every single game feeling like we can win and knowing we can win," Nolte added. "It comes down to us doing the things we need to do to get a win.”
They set the bar high before the season even started, but now using that underestimation as motivation, the Panthers will push for that goal even harder.
“I think just prove we can compete in Class AA, and just go at it with all we have," added Flikkema.