MCCULLERS COLUMN: Time to separate contenders from pretenders

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There comes a time in every season when teams are exposed.

For better or worse, it is a time when no squad can hide who it truly is nor if it’s capable of seriously contending at a championship level any longer.

For some local basketball teams, that time has come and gone already this season.

The Columbia Falls girls have proven themselves perfectly capable of repeating as state champions in Class A. Both Bigfork programs, boys and girls, are bona fide state title contenders.

But other teams are still shrouded in mystery, having looked as dominant as the ’96 Bulls at some points and as beatable as the pre-The Process 76ers at others.

That is truer for no one than it is for our town’s two Class AA schools, Flathead and Glacier.

It is time, however, for the masks to come off.

When the Braves/Bravettes and Wolfpack clash tonight at Flathead High School, bragging rights and the claim to the city’s crown will be on the line. That much should go without saying.

What may be overlooked — even if it’s equally important, if not more so, in the long run — is the right of the victors to label themselves legitimate contenders in the Western AA conference, and possibly the state as a whole.

This is especially true of the boys contest.

Flathead has experienced a season of ups and downs that would make even the most extreme roller coasters appear mild by comparison.

After dropping an early game to Great Falls, the Braves seemed to hit their stride in nonconference play, only to see momentum come to a screeching halt with a pair of losses that included a stunning overtime defeat versus Helena Capital in the conference opener.

Coach Ross Gustafson’s squad comes in riding high, however, after picking up a huge victory over top-ranked Missoula Sentinel on Tuesday.

Though less erratic, Glacier has also been through its share of highs and lows.

The Wolfpack struggled in nonconference play, losing four of its first five games. Coach Mark Harkins’ team has put itself back in the mix, though, with three wins in its first four conference games. The lone defeat was a three-point loss to Missoula Hellgate.

The bottom line: though both teams have been through rough patches thus far, both also have the talent and depth needed to compete at the state’s highest level.

Whether they are able to do so consistently is still to be seen, but we are likely to better discern after tonight’s action which squad should be deemed a legitimate contender.

It will be a competitive, emotional and dramatic evening at Flathead High.

It will also be a telling one.

Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463 or by email at emccullers@dailyinterlake.com.

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