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Competitive edge driving Helena High girls into crosstown

Posted at 9:00 AM, Jan 18, 2019

HELENA – Jamie Pickens couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

Her team, the two-time defending Class AA state champion Helena High Bengals, was listed beneath rival Helena Capital and Kalispell Glacier in the latest Western AA girls basketball standings.

“I had some people come up to me and say, ‘There’s no way you’re underneath Glacier,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,’” said Pickens.

The defending Gatorade girls basketball player of the year and arguably best player in the state, Pickens quickly sent a message to her coach seeking understanding.

“I think every little thing that comes up press-wise, these girls read it and they either like it or really don’t like it,” said Helena head coach Eric Peterson. “It’s one of those things where if there’s some anomaly or some typo that puts them down, they send me texts right away and say, ‘Is this real life? Are they serious?’ and all this stuff. It’s fun because every day we see it in practice, they beat each other up every day and live for the moments where they can go out and compete against other teams. They’re so competitive and just want to win all the time.”

Pickens is admittedly on the competitive side this week, though that never seems to go away for the future Montana Lady Grizzly, as her unbeaten Helena High squad hosts crosstown rival and fellow unbeaten Helena Capital on Friday night.

Seeing the Bruins ahead of the Bengals in the standings certainly didn’t help, although there was solid reasoning behind it.

“It’s the town rivalry, but I didn’t really realize it was alphabetical order until (Peterson) told me, so I guess that’s all right,” laughed Pickens. “We don’t have to come to that No. 1, we’ll just show them all with our playing.”

“Every little thing they take to heart, which I kind of like,” said Peterson. “It’s one of those things where they feel that they need to be that No. 1 all the time. It doesn’t really matter until the end of the year, but they like to think, they internalize everything no matter what it is.”

It’s all in good fun, obviously, but Helena High did fall to Capital in overtime during the teams’ first meeting last winter, something Pickens and her teammates remember quite well. Though they remain loose, having enjoyed the days leading to Friday night’s contest, there has been a noticeable difference in the intensity level.

“I think in practice this week we saw it a little bit. It’s a one-game week, so when you can focus on one team and have it be your crosstown rival, I think they buy into the system, where we’re trying to go and say, ‘We have to get things done this week,’” said Peterson. “You can see it in the drills we do, everything is more crisp, more game speed and they’re getting ready to go.”

“As soon as you step on that court, it’s game faces on,” Pickens said. “We’re ready to compete. During warmups we’re serious and ready to play basketball. It’s right when we step on that court.”

That’s when those standings, alphabetical or not, mean nothing.