Mustang Ian Swanson drives to the net against Twin Bridges January 2020. FILE PHOTO BY HANNAH KEARSE

Varsity basketball season gets rolling

Teams take it day by day amid pandemic uncertainty

It may be a few weeks later than usual, and the season will be truncated, but young varsity basketballers around the county are finally back competing on the court.

Practice began Dec. 7 and games were underway soon after students returned from winter break. While the pandemic has already thrown a wrench in game scheduling, players and coaches are staying focused on competitions ahead.

Extra precautions are being taken by players and coaches during practice to lower their risks of contracting Covid, and in turn keeping the season alive. For the Ennis Mustangs, explained boys’ Head Coach Jared Smithson, this meant masking up when practice starts as well as social distancing when not in a drill. And of course, disinfecting, disinfecting, disinfecting.

Coach Smithson said he’s excited the boys get to have a season, and to see what they’re capable of this year. Last season the varsity boys’ team was senior-less, giving the young roster opportunities galore to garner game time experience.

“I've seen a lot of growth and maturity from them so far and can't wait to see what this season brings” said Coach Smithson. “If they continue to work as hard as they have been, we will have a successful season.”

This will be Ian Swanson and Brand's Ostler’s third year starting and second year for Cordell Severeid, Jarrett Jenkins and Jaxson Kloote.

“Last year we had an overall record of 9-12 and we hope to build and improve this season,” said Coach Smithson. “With all the hard work they've put in I think we have a really good shot.”

For Mustang Girls’ Coach Jordan Overstreet, the return of basketball has brought some sense of normalcy back to him and his team. “Practice has let us just focus on just basketball, and it’s been a good break from what is going on outside of it with Covid and everything else going on,” he said.

All five starters return from last year’s Lady Mustangs.

“The girls have been working hard in practice and I’m looking forward to seeing how far this team is going to progress throughout the season,” said Coach Overstreet.

The Mustangs first scheduled matchup is in West Yellowstone on Jan. 7, but as of Jan. 4 the game was somewhat up in the air, said Ennis’ Athletic Director Chris Hess, as the team awaited Covid tests for some players. The school district had announced several days earlier that five students had tested positive for the virus.

Additionally, the Mustang girls game stated for Jan. 9 against the Lone Peak Big Horns will be rescheduled. It was canceled due to a Big Horn player testing positive for Covid.

Over in the Ruby Valley, Sheridan Panthers girls’ head coach Emily Pierson shares in the excitement of a new season opportunity to play and compete again.

“They've been working hard in practice and are consistently pushing to be better than the day before,” said Coach Pierson. “We're relatively inexperienced this year, but the younger players are picking things up very quickly and are doing very well.”

Panther players to watch this season, said Pierson, include senior Mackenzee Fabel who led the team in rebounds last year and brings to the team a strong defensive presence. Junior Faith Larsen led the Panthers in shooting behind the arc last season and continues to be an offensive threat.

Seven new players join the varsity Panthers, “adding talent and speed to our roster,” said Pierson. “We're looking forward to every opportunity we get to play and compete this year.”

Panther Boys’ Coach Bennett Holland excitedly anticipates a season of growth for his players and the program as a whole.

“We ended last year's season playing on Saturday and that is always our goal,” said Holland. “We have some key players returning from last year's team, and I am excited to see their individual growth from the end of the season last year, to the start of the season this year. I am also very excited about the young guys joining the team. We have an athletic freshman class joining the team and I am excited to see how they develop throughout the season.”

Three starters are returning for the Panther boys. Senior point guard Hartson VanHouten, said Coach Holland, will be leaned on to take care of the ball and keep the offense rolling. Junior center, Kaiden Batzler will be relied heavily on throughout the year to score and defend on the post. Batzler was the Panther’s only All-Conference player last year. Senior forwards Coleman Gilman and Bradyn Martin will also be key to the success of the team, said their coach, as they both bring defense and leadership to the team.

The Panthers lost their first match up to Twin Bridges on Jan. 4, 38 to 75.

Twin Bridges returns after a heck of a season last year when both boys and girls earned 12C District Championships. Boys’ coach Josh Keller said that while his team lost a lot of fire power last year, the Falcons return three starters and their six man from last year. “We have a lot of experience, but we are a different team,” said Coach Keller.

“We have a lot of size and athletes where we can do a lot of things this year. We still feel like we have some unfinished business from last year and a little bit of a chip on our shoulders to get back to a place where we can reach our goals.”

The Falcons also have a new district, 11C, which will present new challenges, said Keller, bringing back Manhattan Christian and other 11C teams.

Falcon players to keep an eye on include All-Stater Charlie Kruer who averaged 16.5 points and five rebounds per game last year. Then there’s Matt Kaiser who averaged a double-double last year, with 13 pts and 10 rebounds. Kruer had multiple 20-point and 20-rebound games – two of them against their tough opponent Manhattan Christian. Returning starter Tate Smith is yet another player to watch this season, said Keller.

“We just are truly excited to get to some normalcy and that for us is playing basketball on the court,” said Keller, whose team has won the district title the last four years. “Some of these guys have been main contributors to many of those titles. We want to keep it going. I can see it in our eyes that they are ready to play.”

Hoping to catch a game? This season spectating will not be as easy as just showing up at game time. Depending on the size of the gym, spectators will be limited – for example, Sheridan will limit spectators to two per player. Check with the schools to confirm their policy, and to see if the schedule has changed, which it likely will in this season of unknowns.

*As of press time, The Madisonian had not received responses from either Harrison team or Twin Bridges’ girls.

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65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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