CHURCHILL — The Manhattan Christian Eagles lost only one game all season and it came in the Western C divisional title game, and now they’re looking to bounce back and make a state title run.
“Sometimes the loss can teach you things that winning can’t, so we have to embrace that,” said Eagles head coach Jeff Bellach, who has the team back in the state tournament for the second straight year.
The Eagles lost to another undefeated team in Seeley-Swan 57-51 in the Western C title game.
“Seeley was tough, but we’re excited for state as well," said Eagles senior Eliana Kuperus. "I think we’d get them if we’d played them again.”
“Against Seeley, I really think we could have had them if we had maybe one or two more minutes just of the quarter,” said Manhattan Christian sophomore Ava Bellach.
Now the pressure is off for the Manhattan Christian girls, they can grow from their loss and head into the state tournament.
“It did feel like we did have a target on our back, especially being undefeated," said Kuperus. "Now that we have a loss I think it’s better because now we have nothing to lose.”
Kuperus as an integral part of the Eagles' success. She is a monster when it comes to corralling rebounds, amassing quite a few double-doubles this season.
“I’ve always loved being physical down low, so being able to box out girls and being able to jump for the ball, I’ve just always loved that. I guess that’s my secret,” Kuperus said.
“She sets the tone in practice with her work ethic," said Jeff Bellach. "She’s just a hardworking kid, she plays hard and plays bigger than she is. She’s one of those who just has the knack for the ball.”
The girls made the state tournament last year and floundered at the eye-opening experience. Now, they feel like they belong.
“Last year, I think we were just happy to be at state but I think this year we definitely deserved to be at state," said Kuperus. "It’ll be nice to have that one year under our belt at state and just to come back and be ready for the intensity and competitiveness of state too.”
“I think we got our eyes opened last year," said Jeff Bellach. "A lot of the first groups I’ve taken (to state) have had that happen. Now, I think we said after the game last year, 'Now we know what that level is like, you’ve seen it firsthand.’ I think we took that into our summer work, that we were able to put into this season. Now that’s all out the window, now we can go there and know that we belong there because we put in that work, so that’s the approach we will take this year.”
Coach Bellach knows that when coaching basketball it’s important for players to grow on and off the court, but sometimes winning can teach a lot.
“You can learn a lot from being a champion, too, so that’s obviously something that we strive to be," he said.
The Eagles play Melstone in the first round of the state tournament in Billings on March 10.