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Bigfork Valkyries aiming to become first Montana team to win back-to-back state titles in different classes

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Posted at 8:19 PM, Feb 28, 2024

BIGFORK — After going undefeated and winning the Class B girls basketball state championship last year, the Bigfork Valkyries are now in Class A. And as the No. 1 seed from the West, they have a shot to make history.

"I think we have a lot more on our plate just with how our season was last year," said senior forward Callie Gembala. "And I think a lot of people are expecting a lot of us, and I think we're showing them that we can win again and that we are up for another state championship."

Following a perfect 25-0 record last year the Valkyries haven’t skipped a beat this season, as they sit at 20-1 heading into state with the chance to become the first high school boys or girls basketball team in Montana’s history to win back-to-back state titles in different classifications. 

"We're building off of last year a lot, and I think we have what it takes," said Gembala. "But it's going to take a little more effort from us, which I think we are all willing to do."

Even with the jump from Class B to Class A the team has had its eyes on another state title since the season started.

"That's been our goal the entire season, is to go back and win another state championship," said fellow senior forward Afton Lambrecht. "But I mean, we've come so far, especially as a new team and losing so many seniors. So I think we'd be proud of ourselves either way, but coming back with some first-place trophy would be pretty great, too."

After outscoring opponents this year 1,232-550, the Valkyries have made their presence felt at the Class A level, but they still feel they have more to prove.

"I think that's something that we're gonna prove to everybody," said Lambrecht. "That it doesn't matter if you're a smaller team or you don't have as much size, but as long as you work hard and you push yourself, you can win in any class."

And that sentiment is felt by the whole team, as not only did they make a leap to a bigger class, but they also lost most of their height from last year’s championship squad.

"I think it just like proving ourselves is a big thing that we're doing this year," said sophomore guard Paeten Gunlock. "W don't need height on our team. We have skilled players that have speed and quickness. We don't need the height to be a good team, we're already a good team."

At the beginning of the season the Valkyries suffered their only loss to Frenchtown in overtime 40-37, but they exacted revenge upon Frenchtown in the divisional championship game, beating the Broncs 41-29.

"On our first loss coming off an undefeated season, we got a lot of feedback from people, but it only made us better," said Braeden Gunlock, Paeten's older sister and teammate. "It drove us to want to beat Frenchtown more. Coming off a win and a divisional championship, I mean, it's a lot, it's amazing. And to be the No. 1 seed in the West, it's even greater."

The team brought home the first girls basketball state championship in Bigfork High School's history last year. Now, the Valkyries can make more history with another state title, this time at a higher class.

"Growing up I always just thought (about) winning Class B girls basketball, putting a banner on the wall would be awesome," said the older of the two Gunlocks. "Never thought I'd get the chance to make history twice."

The Class A state tournament will begin Thursday, March 7 at the Butte Civic Center where the Valkyries will have their chance to make history.