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Florence, Missoula Loyola coaches make storied rivalry even better

Posted at 6:15 PM, Jan 21, 2019

MISSOULA – On Saturday afternoon the Missoula Loyola boys easily breezed past the Florence Falcons with a 77-39 victory. However lopsided the score was this year, the Florence-Loyola rivalry is still one of the most storied rivalries in Class B boys basketball. But you might be surprised to know that both coaches played their high school ball at their opposing schools.

Loyola assistant coach Brian Burns played at Florence before going on to play Division I basketball at Northern Arizona. Another Rams assistant coach, Aaron Ward, also might be a familiar name. He played at Florence before playing college ball at the University of Montana.

And the current head coach of the Florence boys? Caleb DeGroot played his high school ball at Loyola.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, all three coaches reminisced on their memories of the rivalry.

“Considering Florence had beaten Loyola a couple times before I got there, and then we (Loyola) went on a pretty good run. Florence was legit, back with (Reid) Baerlocher and those guys, so it was super intense,” DeGroot said. “But I think it’s similar now. As much as I like to say I don’t like Loyola, I absolutely love those people over there, they’re absolute class acts. It’s one of my favorite trips every year. We were fortunate to get a W there last year, my first time beating them and obviously you don’t dawn on those things, but when I go back there it’s a flood of memories and I get to see a ton of great people.”

“Florence-Loyola has always been pretty big, always pretty good competition — sometimes gets a little heated but really good competition, always,” said Ward. 

“Back then Class B was a little different: We had Frenchtown, we had Corvallis, so a lot of competitive teams,” Burns said. “But this rivalry between Loyola and Florence started long before I was there. You get a lot of good fan participation and student bodies come out.”

And some might have better memories than others.

“I think my favorite moment was senior year at the Rita Dome. I hit a buzzer beater on them to finish, so that was a good last game for me,” Ward said about his 2013 game winner in Florence. 

While it might be a long time since they’ve been in high school uniforms, those memories of them at the opposing rival schools don’t go away for some friends and fans.

“I caught a little heat, I caught a little heat early,” DeGroot said. “I can’t remember anything in specific, but the newspaper down here asked, ‘Well, aren’t you from Loyola? Are you still a Ram?’ And I had to tell them, ‘Well, I’m as much of a Dog as I am a Ram, because I’m from Westridge,’ so I try to stay neutral a little bit. But those people … you never outgrow Loyola, for sure.”

“I’ve definitely been called a traitor a few times this year, all in good fun, but most of my buddies and stuff like that,” said Ward.

“I didn’t really think much of it until we had our first game down in Florence, going back into the gym and just kind of feeling it was a little bit awkward at first, but it’s been good — great kids, great students, and the parents are good, too,” Burns said. “They’re the ones who give me the most business when I go down there or they come up here, but it’s all good.”