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Western AA title latest step in season turnaround for Missoula Hellgate girls

Hellgate wins Western AA.jpg
Posted at 6:00 PM, Mar 06, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-07 12:13:15-05

MISSOULA — Over the past weekend, the Missoula Hellgate girls basketball program was crowned Western AA divisional champions as the Knights secured the top seed out of the West heading into the state tournament.

The Knights (15-6) were a cardiac team throughout the tournament, as they beat Kalispell Glacier by six points and Helena by four before winning the championship in a crosstown showdown with Big Sky, where Hellgate came from behind to win by three.

"It was just super rewarding. We lost divisionals last year on a buzzer beater," senior forward Alix Mund said. "And we just knew coming into this year that we were really hungry for it. And especially, you know, taking two losses to Big Sky earlier in the season, it just made it made it that much sweeter that we could get a crosstown win and the divisional championship."

The Knights have been a program decorated with success the past several years, and with a number of key returners leading the way this season, that experience from past postseason environments paid off.

"I think that has built really strong friendships between us, we've played other sports together, we've really grown up together," senior guard Lillie Lambert said. "And I think that it's just created this community within each other. And we have that support within each other as seniors. And I think that trickles down throughout the team."

"One of the things that's special about our team is that like even in those like stressful, or like tough situations, we're good like using each other and like building each other up and not turning against each other," senior forward Chloe Larsen added. "So I think it was really cool to see like in those moments just hyping each other up and like knowing that like every teammate trusts each other and like to really step up in those moments."

The Knights had a bumpy start to the season, as Hellgate began the year 4-5 midway through January.

Since, they've been on a roll, as Hellgate has won 11 of its last 12, including nine straight, with plenty of close, gut-check victories mixed in there, as the Knights took time to figure themselves out, their roles, how players fit best together.

"I think just our overall mindset, like, we try not to focus on the losses, like obviously we can learn a lot from them," senior guard Carmen Anderson said. "But just focusing on the next game and coming together, and regrouping as a team to get that win the next game and know that we can do so much better than maybe we have done before or just building off if we do win. And just keeping it going, keeping that momentum."

Now, Hellgate, under head coach Maddie Keast, prepares for the final weekend of the year as a hometown favorite with State AA in Missoula. With five seniors, and other big contributors like junior Shannon Kane, sophomores Elly Reed, Ryan Messervy and Gianna Passuccio, and freshman Paisley Johnson all figuring into the mix.

Hellgate opens the tournament against Great Falls CMR at 5 p.m. on Thursday. And it's been a special run, and one they aim to continue through Saturday evening at Dahlberg Arena.

"I think just being able to like take the fact that I've worked with these girls for so long in the four years, all together, being on teams with them, and then finally seeing it click at the end and win a divisional title is not something I've personally done on varsity, so that's super cool to see us be able to accomplish that," senior guard Sophia Miller said. "It's just been so special for me. I mean, I really love these girls a lot and so being able to like come together and have success is amazing."