HELENA -- As winter weather advances on Montana, high school basketball heats up.
The Helena High girls basketball team opens its season with an opportunity to do something never seen before in Class AA -- win four consecutive state championships.
Only two other Class AA girls basketball programs have come close to the feat. Great Falls High lost the 1979 state title game to Missoula Sentinel before rattling off three straight titles in 1980, 1981 and 1982. In 2001, the Billings West Golden Bears lost in the final game of the season to the Kalispell Flathead Bravettes, no girls basketball was played in 2002 due to the season switch with girls volleyball, and the Golden Bears dominated the next three years, winning consecutive titles from 2003-05.
While the Great Falls High clubs of the 1980s and Billings West squads at the turn of the century began their reigns by losing a state championship game, Helena never tasted that title defeat before its three-peat.
Though this year's roster looks a little different -- the Bengals lost two-time Gatorade player of the year and current Montana Lady Griz Jamie Pickens to graduation as well as key players like Vanessa Walsh and sisters Paige and Payton Aasved -- the Bengals' head coach believes the culture built into the program will help them back to the title game in March.
"I don't think the girls' expectations change at all. I think they are expecting to have some success this year. And that's the good thing about this group," said coach Eric Peterson. "Any time you lose a two-time Gatorade player of the year, you're going to have some holes to fill, and so, luckily, we had a pretty solid program and haven't lost a lot of games program-wide. We lost six games total last year as a program. So we're in a situation where we feel like there's some girls that can come up and they've been waiting their turn."
The Helena High girls basketball team will open its season in Bozeman on Dec. 12 at 7 p.m.