Outlaws are state co-champions

Matthew Strissel
Wednesday, March 18, 2020
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The Roy-Winifred Outlaw girls’ basketball team poses for a photo after the District 8C touranment on Feb. 22. The girls were named state co-champions after the state tournament was cut short. Photo by Matthew Strissel

It may not have been the way the Roy-Winifred Lady Outlaws wanted to receive the title, but nonetheless they are the 2020 Montana state Co-Champions in basketball.

The Outlaws were set to play their rival Belt Huskies in the championship game Saturday night at the Adams Center on the University of Montana campus in Missoula. However, once MHSA director Mark Beckman got word of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Montana, he made the decision to cancel the remaining games of the basketball tournaments for all classes.

“We were really disappointed at first that we couldn’t play the state championship game, but we were also feeling fortunate to have at least had the opportunity to play in the state tournament and to get to the point in the tourney that we were able to showcase our talented team and bring home some hardware even if we have to share,” said Roy-Winifred Co-Head Coach Mauri Elness.

Both Belt and Roy-Winifred proved to be state championship contenders from the start of the season. They each went 15-1 during the regular season, only losing to each other on their home turf. Belt defeated the Outlaws 47-45 at the District 8C championship game to win the title. The Outlaws came back and defeated Belt 47-46 to win the Northern C Divisional championship a week later, leaving only a one-point differential in championship games between the two teams.

“We were really looking forward to having the rubber match with Belt after we split on the season two and two,” Elness said. “It is a huge rivalry and it seemed as if we had our own series going and the state tournament was going to settle it once and for all.

After the Roy-Winifred team won their semi-final game against Ekalaka, 62-19, they watched a bit of the Belt semi-final game before leavto get some dinner. That’s when the announcement was made they would not be playing in the championship game. Most of the girls found out through Snapchat.

“Some of the girls were receiving snaps that we were just crowned co-champs with Belt and we weren’t even at the gym,” Elness said. “We knew Belt was going to win [their semi-final game] when we left, they were up by 20 points. The girls were devastated. There were a lot of tears, disbelief and even anger. They really wanted to play one more time. The senior girls especially felt like their season and career had no closure.”

After the announcement, the coaches tried to console their team, especially the senior players as much as they could.

“It was really hard as their coaches,” Elness said. “We felt really helpless. Our girls were hurting and there wasn’t a whole lot we could do about it. It was really a roller coaster of emotions, because about an hour and a half previous to that we were on cloud nine and just came off one of the biggest wins of our season.”

While the season may have ended one game shorter than what may have been, the Lady Outlaws are still state champions. Coach Elness said that is a great title to have, especially for her seniors, Dyauni Boyce, Olivia Geer and Cassie Smith.

“I am so proud of our seniors for their accomplishments, and even though the season didn’t end with a state championship in the traditional sense, they still are state champs in our book,” Elness said. “Those three girls, Dyauni, Olivia and Cassie, led our team every step of the way. They have had an awesome career and will be missed as they move on to bigger things. We will never forget the things they taught us and the leadership that they brought to our program.”

After taking second place at the state tournament last season, both Co-Head Coaches, Elness and Marietta Boyce, knew this season would be special. The Northern C division is one of the toughest in the state. According to Northern C Divisional tournament director Brian Campbell, seven of the last io state championship teams have come from the Northern C. It’s one thing to be the best in your district or division. It’s another to be the best in the state.

“The best part of the season was definitely the state tournament and the recognition the girls were getting from other communities,” Elness said. “People were coming up to them and us and complimenting them on how they play the game and how impressed they were with our team. We as coaches are always proud of our girls, but when people from other areas are staying to watch your team because they just like to watch good basketball, it brings tears to my eyes. These kids worked so hard for that recognition, not just during the regular season but also the off season. Last summer we played a lot of basketball putting in a full schedule in June and July. It paid off.”

Looking ahead to next season, where the Lady Outlaws will have to defend their state title, the team has great potential to remain the best in the state. This year, RoyWinifred had two eighth graders and two freshman players on their roster for the state tournament. In contrast, Belt had eight senior players for their team.

“We have a young team and we are super excited for our future,” Elness said. “We have some huge leaders returning with Madeline Heggem, and Trinity Edwards, we have other talented players as well that are excited for the next chapter.

“They all know we have big shoes to fill and have already been talking about working this off season in preparation for their next basketball season. Our future looks bright and we have an awesome group of girls that know what it takes to be at the next level, and we have parents that are supportive and encouraging.”

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