MISSOULA — Missoula Big Sky's girls basketball team has been on a roll of late, as the Eagles recently completed a crosstown sweep in their second meetings with Sentinel and Hellgate.
The wins were a big step forward for a program that is young on the court, but ready to make a statement in postseason play.
"At this point, anybody can beat anybody in divisionals, so we just have to play our best no matter who we're playing and go out and ball," sophomore guard Sadie McGuinn said.
It's a talented, but youthful roster at Big Sky, led by sophomore standout Kadynce Couture, who currently holds offers already from Montana and Montana State.
She's one of three sophomores who start for the Eagles alongside McGuinn and Gianna Janacaro, while freshman Avory Decoite and junior Audrey Hale round out the starting five. Sophomore Kyler Latrielle also plays a role for the Eagles and Big Sky sports two seniors in Maddie Jones and Dakota Belarde.
Hale was the hero against Hellgate with the buzzer-beater three at the Adams Center, and as a three-year starter has seen the program's growth where in recent years the program has struggled, but last year they were competitive, and this season they've been looking to take the next step and get back to the State AA tournament for the first time since 2016.
"We definitely take the things that we did well, and we use that to strive and push us to the next level, and then use that momentum to carry us to the next games," Hale said. "And then we use the things that we did wrong, and to learn from our mistakes to help at practice, and we grind still and we work hard every day."
Under first-year coach Travis Williams, Big Sky is trending in the right direction as they've adapted throughout the season against older teams.
"I think that's one thing as coaches we've tried to keep in mind the whole year is that we are a really young group and sometimes we're going to go through those growing pains, and sometimes we have to learn those valuable lessons throughout the course of a game when it's not ideal, you want to learn those things in between games and things like that," Williams said. "But that's the important thing is we're continually getting better, we've got a young group and so I think we're doing that on a weekly basis so it's been good."
There were certainly growing pains at the start of the season, but those lessons are beginning to settle in.
"With the new coach too it was kind of hard just learning some new plays and stuff like that, and what the defense was going to be like, but you could definitely tell maybe a little bit before halfway through the season that things started to click and we decided to play better and play to our potential," McGuinn said.
For the Eagles, it's now about sustaining success, as they get set for the Western AA divisional in Kalispell next weekend. They finished the regular season 10-8 and 7-7 in Western AA play this week after beating Kalispell Glacier 48-35 on Thursday before dropping a heartbreaker to Western AA leader Kalispell Flathead 46-45 on Saturday. The Eagles won four of their final five games to end the regular season.
"It's been great, and it's better to hit our stride now than when it's too late but it's been fun," Hale said. "This season has definitely taught us a lot and I think we'll keep striving and keep moving forward to get our next goal."