HARLOWTON – When Gregg Wasson inherited the Harlowton girls basketball coaching job in the fall of 2011, he took over a program that had established itself as a powerhouse in Class C.
“It didn’t start with me, it’s a program that’s been established for a while,” Wasson said. “John MacCart and Rob Galahan started it way back when they took over. We’ve got kids that have put time in and played and put in a lot of hours in the summer and kept the tradition going.”
Harlowton became a household name in girls basketball in the early 2000s with MacCart and Galahan at the helm. In 2001, the Engineers placed second at the Class C state tournament after losing to Chester in the title game, 83-75. In 2004, Harlowton again advanced to the championship game. This time, the Engineers defeated district rival Reed Point, 36-32.
In the year prior to Wasson taking over, Harlowton was once again in the championship game at the state tournament. That Engineers squad was led by Bailey Snelling, the record-setting daughter of Wasson’s current assistant, Larry Snelling. The Engineers lost by one to Saco-Whitewater but were able to bring back another second-place trophy from the state tournament.
Needless to say, Wasson had big shoes to fill. But the experience of Larry Snelling has proved invaluable.
“Just the knowledge of the game,” said Wasson on what Snelling’s most important attribute is. “He coached up in (Judith) Gap for a lot of years with the boys and took some boys teams to the state tournament, so he has knowledge of the game. Probably more than anything that I like with him on the sidelines, is that he sees different things during the game that he’s able to relay to me because he did coach so long as a head coach.”
Wasson is now in his seventh season as the head coach at Harlowton where he has compiled 137 wins to just 26 losses. He has been to the state tournament twice in the past four years, 2014 and 2017, but it’s not a loss from those seasons that stands out.
“My first year of coaching, we had a really good team,” said Wasson. “That was a team that went to divisional, and we actually lost our first game at divisional (to St. Labre) and couldn’t challenge when we came back around. That was a team that I thought was really talented. We were just young, and we didn’t get it done when it mattered most.”
However, that’s not the only loss that stings. In 2014, Harlowton missed out on a trophy at the state tournament after losing a thrilling double-overtime battle against Winnett-Grass Range in the consolation game.
“That was a great game and it could have gone either way,” Wasson said. “We didn’t, probably in the end, have enough depth. We ran out of gas late in that game and that really cost us.”
Wasson has had a special experience while being the coach at Harlowton. He’s had the opportunity to coach both of his daughters, Makenzie and Madison. In Makenzie’s final three years, all with her father as the coach, she was named all-conference three times, all-state twice, and was named to the all-tournament team her senior year at the 2014 Class C state tournament. Madison, currently a senior on this year’s team, was named all-conference last year and was a key contributor in their state tournament appearance.
“There’s pros and cons of coaching your own kids,” Wasson said with a chuckle. “It’s not easy, but there’s a lot of great memories, too. I guess I haven’t won a trophy at state yet, but anytime you win at the district and divisional level and have that experience with your kid, that’s always a great accomplishment and a lot of fun to be able to share that.”
Harlowton appears ready to make another deep postseason run. The Engineers currently sit at 13-0 and are ranked No. 4 in the MontanaSports.com power polls.
In its appearance at the state tournament last year, Harlowton lost in the first round to eventual runner-up Arlee. But Wasson doesn’t see the losses at state as motivation for this year’s team.
“We are (hungry to get back),” Wasson said. “But I don’t know if that’s necessarily what they look at right now. It’s a totally different team. We’re having to do things a little different. Right now, we’re just trying to get to where we’re the best that we can be. We’d love to get back to state, but that’s a long ways away and a lot of things have to fall in place for that to happen.”