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Undefeated Anaconda girls rolling early, looking to end state tournament drought

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ANACONDA — The Anaconda girls basketball team doesn't need to be reminded how its last season ended.

The Copperheads faced Missoula Loyola in a Western B challenge game at the Snake Pit last February, where the Breakers — bolstered by the scoring production of Gio Horner — fended off Anaconda 58-52 to scuttle the Copperheads' bid to return to the State B tournament, at which they haven't appeared since 2021.

"I think about it everyday," said Anaconda junior guard Meela Mitchell. "I used it as motivation in the offseason."

That motivation is paying off early this season for the undefeated Copperheads and Mitchell, their leading scorer. Anaconda has stormed to an 8-0 record with all of its victories coming by double digits or more.

The Copperheads will face their toughest test of the season so far on Saturday at Loyola in a rematch of that challenge game. The Breakers are 7-2 with both of their losses coming to Class A competition in non-conference games in December.

Anaconda's current seniors were freshman on that 2021 State B team that came up one game short of the consolation final. But Mitchell still hasn't been to state, saying "that's for sure one of my big goals."

There's a few factors that should help Anaconda as it looks to get end back to state — this season, the Western B is slated to send its top three seeds to state for the first time since 2021. Also, the shifting of defending Class B champion Bigfork to the Class A ranks this season makes the race toward a Class B crown feel considerably more wide open.

And the Copperheads have also benefited from the return of starting guard Makena Patrick, whose season ended with a blown knee early last season.

"It's been amazing, I missed it so much," said Patrick, now a junior. "It was hard but it was so worth it to be back out there with the team."

And this team places an emphasis on playing unselfish basketball, with senior Maniyah Lunceford saying that the only personal stat she keeps track of is how many assists she's dished out.

"I would describe it as just going with the flow," said Lunceford of Anaconda's offensive approach. "A lot of it is just reading the defense and trusting that our teammates will move and get open."

This next month of conference play will give the Copperheads a chance to fine-tune their game as they set their sight on postseason play and what they hope will be a trip to Billings in March.

"Right now we have a ton of things that we need to fix and that we're working on every night said Copperheads coach Andy Saltenberger. "That part of it's getting there. Hopefully we really show up come the end of the year."