By EVAN MCCULLERS
The Daily Inter Lake
BIGFORK — The Bigfork boys and girls basketball programs have combined for one state championship and three appearances in the state title game in the school’s history.
Now, in one season, both the boys and girls are making a strong push to add to that total.
A rare convergence of talent and experience has each Bigfork team dreaming big after a combined 21-1 start to the season. The boys are 11-0 and atop the 406mtsports.com Class B rankings, while the girls are 10-1 and ranked third.
Bigfork is one of only two schools in the state with its boys and girls teams both ranked in the top 5.
“It’s great to see both programs having that success,” Bigfork boys head coach Sam Tudor said.
The Vikings, who captured the school’s only basketball state title in 2014 with a win over Columbus, have earned the top ranking thanks in large part to their explosive offense.
Anders Epperly, who led Bigfork to a state championship game appearance as a freshman in 2016, keys the attack that also prominently features Beau Santistevan and Logan Gilliard. All three average double figures.
“It would be tough for me to just say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to go win state,’ but it’s definitely a goal of ours,” Tudor said. “I really do feel, if we get to state, we’ll perform at state and do well.”
The Vikings barely missed out on a trip to the state tournament last season, losing a challenge game to Missoula Loyola. But with all players returning from that team this year, hopes are high that a similar fate can be avoided.
“Do I think we have the talent? Yeah,” Tudor said.
“Last year, this same team beat Malta, who won state, and we didn’t lose anything. The talent is definitely there.”
The same could be said for the Valkyries.
Their lone loss was a five-point defeat at the hands of Columbia Falls, the top-ranked team in Class A.
“We are strong at every position,” Bigfork girls head coach Jami Grende said. “We really don’t have a weak link on the floor.
“We have a lot of really good shooters. We can score inside, outside.”
While the offense has also been potent this year, Grende places much of the credit for her team’s early success on the defensive end of the floor, where Bigfork’s press has given opponents fits.
The Valkyries have also been solid on the boards, a bit of a surprise given their lack of size. Senior post Jaime Berg, the team leader in points and rebounds, is 6-foot, but Grende said no other player in the rotation eclipses 5-foot-8.
“If I were to scout us, I’d call us a scary team,” the fourth-year coach said.
The scariest thing for opponents, however, is Grende’s belief that, as good as Bigfork has been so far, it could get even better.
“We haven’t peaked yet, and I hope that we will be peaking here in the next couple of weeks,” she said. “When we all do play together, when we’re all on, there’s absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t be a contender at state.”
Such success at the state tournament is long awaited.
Bigfork has made two appearances at state under Grende’s watch but has been sent home without a win both times. The Valkyries have never appeared in the state championship game.
“That would be a dream come true,” Grende said of making it all the way to the end. “We could do it. We have the potential.”
Different fortunes this year would be welcome for the Valkyries. But regardless of their season’s outcome, the boys will be their biggest fans, Tudor said. And vice versa.
“It’s a great environment,” Tudor said. “We like watching the girls. They like watching us.”
Both Bigfork teams travel to Missoula today for rematches versus Loyola. The girls tip off at 3:30 p.m. and are followed by the boys at 5 p.m.