By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
It may seem strange to be already talking about the Havre Central Junior High Boys Basketball Tournament considering the girls tournament was just played a month ago. But for the 35th straight year, albeit a little earlier, the tournament will kick off today at 5 p.m.
The long-running tournament has had to adjust over the past few years because of the changing high school basketball seasons. Hence, the tourney is played basically at the beginning of Havre Central's season, instead of the end.
Regardless of its time in the year, it is still one of the premier junior high basketball tournaments in Northcentral Montana, attracting some of the best teams in the area
This year's tournament features an undefeated Fairfield squad along with two good Great Falls' private schools in Our Lady of Lourdes and Holy Spirit
Lourdes has only one loss on the season, while Holy Spirit played in last year's tournament championship game.
But for Central head coach L.D. Matthews, the biggest advantage those teams possess is having played almost their entire season.
"It's tough because we've only played two games this season and they'll have played close to 20," Matthews said. "Fairfield played their league tournament last week and just kept practicing to play in this tournament to end their season."
It's that advantage that has Matthews pointing to Fairfield as the favorite.
"I believe they are the team to beat," he said. "They haven't lost a game and they've played some good teams. Lourdes has only lost one game this season and their season ends next week with their tournament.
Matthews isn't letting his 49er-team look at that as an excuse, but rather as a challenge.
"I told them they have to be ready to play tough competition that's already been playing for several weeks," he said. "We have to come ready to play. This will give us a chance to see how good of a team we are."
The Niners may have only played two games this season, but they were two games against tournament competitors. Central picked up a seven-point win over KG and an 18-point win over first-round opponent Chinook a week ago.
However last year, the Niners owned a win over Chinook and were subsequently defeated in the first round. It's something that Matthews has reminded his team of this week.
"I've been reminding about last year and coming ready to play," he said. "But we're a much different team this year."
Indeed, a year ago Central's roster featured only four eighth graders, six seventh graders and two sixth graders. This year, the Niners' squad features 10 eighth graders, including four newcomers, who didn't play last season because of a commitment to hockey. The returnees and new faces give Central plenty of talent and depth.
"We're a year older," Matthews said. "They're a lot stronger, quicker and just more developed as players. It also helps getting those four kids from hockey. They really bring an aggressive attitude to our team"
Beau and Adam Briese, Dylan Patterson and Paul Turner didn't hang up their skates and sticks completely, but they aren't using them exclusively.
They join the returning six players - Matthew Barton, Tyler Ellis, Garrett Korb, Richard Leeds, Joe Sohm and Kevin Tibbetts - to form a solid Central team.
"We have some size and some good quickness," Matthews said. "We just have to run our offense and make good decisions. We're going to try using our full-court pressure to get some turnovers and points in transition"
Central and Chinook will tip off at 6:30 p.m. tonight. The tournament will continue on Friday at 3 p.m. and run through Saturday with the championship scheduled for 7:30 p.m.