The Columbus girls basketball team has racked up plenty of victories in the past two seasons. The Cougars won the Southern B divisional title in 2019 but lost out at the divisional tournament on Saturday morning in 2020.
This year’s team will be without 2020 all-state selection Brenna Rouane and all-conference pick Liz Lorash, which leaves the Cougars with two big holes. But Columbus still has the pieces around to fill the gaps.
“We did lose a lot in those two, and Brenna did some things that’s pretty tough to replace, especially on the defensive end, but we have four seniors that really bring a lot. They all bring something different," Columbus head coach Jeromey Burke said. "We know rebounding is something we’re going to have to focus on without that extra size, but we play pretty hard and we’ve got a good group coming in ready to go.”
“They were big rebounders, so we’re working pretty hard on rebounding. We’re a little smaller this year, so that’s a big focus," senior Payton West said. "We have good leaders stepping up. Our post is one of our leaders this year and I think that will help us a lot.”
Columbus will lean heavily on the play of senior post Brooklynn Wylie. Wylie hovers around 6-feet tall and is a forceful presence on both ends of the floor as she looks to take another leap in her final season.
“(Wylie) is practicing really well. It’s tough to keep her in check. She’s really dominating and that’s what we want out of her. She’s gotten extra aggressive. Just as important, defensively she’s been a stud since she was a sophomore," Burke said.
Game planning to slow Wylie down may be the first thought for opposing coaches, but that will just open things up for the plethora of knockdown shooters Columbus boasts.
“We have a large group of girls that can make shots and get hot. We’ve got some younger girls coming up that have put in some time that I think are ready to make a leap. I think they’ve put in enough shots to do it," Burke said. "You saw Molly (Hamilton) and Hannah (Obert) come on late last year and we haven’t seen quite what Sawyer (Wiggs), (Payton) West and Reed (Johnson) – they can all make shots. I’m excited to see them really step up and start shooting the ball.”
“We are looking for fast shots at the start of the game, hopefully they start falling. If not we’ve got a big post player inside, so we’re going to kick it in to her and look for in-and-out 3s," West said.
Columbus will likely be in contention for the District 4B title once again in 2021. Should the Cougars find themselves at the Southern B this year, they’ll be joining what will likely be a loaded field with the likes of Big Timber, which finished runner-up in the Southern B in 2020, defending divisional champion Colstrip and defending Class B co-champion Forsyth.
“You’re going to have to be playing well to beat teams like Forsyth, Big Timber, Whitehall, Lodge Grass, who we played last year, was really young. You can’t expect to go in there and get games handed to you," said Burke. "I think our approach has got to be that we’ve got to get better every week and go into that divisional tournament playing our best, because you’re going to have to or you’re not going to win any games there this year.”
Columbus kicked off the season on Saturday with a 52-19 romp over Three Forks. The Cougars will play Huntley Project on Thursday night.