The Winnett-Grass Range players and coaches celebrate after winning the Northern C championship game over Box Elder on Saturday night in Great Falls.

Photo courtesy of Ann Stahl

Northern C Champions.

That title has a nice ring to it for the Lady Rams of Winnett-Grass Range.

After a handful of second-place finishes over the past 12 years, the Lady Rams finally put it all together on Saturday night and defeated a heavily favored squad from Box Elder, 56-47.

“Nobody thought we had a chance,” said longtime Winnett-Grass Range Coach Vic Westphal, “but we came ready to play and we put together four quarters of basketball against a very, very good team.”

The Lady Rams have enjoyed plenty of success under the guidance of Westphal and longtime assistant coach Kate Johnson. They have captured district 7C titles and earned trips to state. But up until Saturday night the divisional title had eluded them, and most people in the Four Seasons Arena on Saturday probably expected that streak to continue. The Box Elder team came into the title game full of confidence after handing the defending state champion, Belt Huskies, their first loss of the season the previous night in semifinal action.

“Somebody said this was a big upset,” said Westphal of his team claiming the divisional title, “but I don’t see it that way. I’m just upset it hasn’t happened sooner.”

The Lady Rams came out firing on all cylinders Saturday night, taking a 26-20 lead at the half. But any hopes of coasting to victory were quickly erased after the break as the Lady Bears outscored them 18-10 in the third period.

Down by two heading into the final eight minutes of the game, the Lady Rams kept their composure and continued doing what they had been throughout the game: dominating the rebounds and hitting clutch free throws. Winnett-Grass Range won the rebounding battle 30 to 12, and hit 15 of 18 free throws, compared with just 11 of 26 for the Bears. Most of those free throws came at crunch time, with the clock winding down and the championship on the line.

“We made some big shots down the stretch,” said Westphal.

But the biggest difference, said the coach, was that his team came ready to play, and every single player put together four quarters of championship basketball.

“Everybody did their part,” said the coach. “The seniors always lead you, but just look at the scoring and the rebounds, talk about balance. This was a true team win.”

Brynn Jolma and Sydney Browning led the scoring effort with 14 each, while Kendra Murnion added 7, Piper Johnson scored 6 and Tia Stahl rounded out the scoring with 5.

As if playing in a divisional championship wasn’t enough pressure for the Lady Rams, they also knew that if they lost to Box Elder, they would be forced to play Belt in a Monday night challenge game. When asked if that was a motivating factor, Westphal said it didn’t even come up.

“We never talked about it. I know there were a lot of other people talking about it, but we said before Friday’s game, okay ladies, let’s win two more basketball games and we’re going to Butte for the state tournament. Then after Friday’s win, we said let’s win one more game and we’re going to Butte.”

Although Saturday’s victory by the Lady Rams ended Belt’s chances of defending their state title, Westphal had nothing but praise for coach Jeff Grahams’s program, which has been called a dynasty in Class C basketball, after making it to state for 11 straight years and winning five of the last six titles.

Somebody said this was a big upset, but I don’t see it that way. I’m just upset it hasn’t happened sooner.”
- Coach Vic Westphal, commenting on his team winning its first Northern C championship

“Belt is a quality team and they have made this a quality division. They have made everybody better. I admire them, they have put a great program together and they will be back.”

But not this year. This year it will be Winnett-Grass Range (20-3) and Box Elder (22-2) representing the Northern C division at the State Tournament in Butte in two weeks. Winnett-Grass Range opens the tournament against Ennis, the second seed out of the west. Game time is 8 p.m. on Thursday, March


With a week and a half to prepare for state, Westphal said they will use the time to get healthy and prepare for their first opponent.

The short break also gives the team and their fans a little more time to enjoy their new title as Northern C Divisional champions. With most of Central Montana still locked in the grips of a long, cold winter, Westphal said he appreciates the support they have received from area fans and he hopes his team’s success has helped brighten up the season a little bit.

“We have had so much support from so many people,” said the coach. “It’s been cold outside … we needed something to warm us up.”



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