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By Andi Bourne

Eagles Take First in Copper League


Karen Kovatch

The Seeley Lake Elementary A team. Front (L-R): Rowan McClure, Tara Cahoon, Emily Howard, Hannah Ayers and Rose Mercer. Back (L-R): Tegan Mauldin, Bethany Hoag, Aspen Conley, Trista Wendel, Klaire Kovatch, Sariah Maughan and Head Coach Brett Haines.

SEELEY LAKE – The Seeley Lake Elementary (SLE) Eagles put their name in the record books after taking the championship game in the Large School A Copper League. This was the first year the Eagles have participated in the Copper League. Head Coach Brett Haines could not be happier with how well the girls did this season.

The Eagles joined the Copper League this year and competed with the large schools. This included the Missoula schools.

"I knew we could compete," said Haines. "I didn't realize we would have this kind of success."

Haines said as a whole the season had its ups and downs. A loss early in the season to Charlo in overtime was disappointing because Haines said the girls could have won it, they just didn't finish strong. However, Charlo was at the end of their season and the Eagles were only a few weeks into theirs.

A win to Drummond on the home court and then a loss to them later in the season had Haines worried.

"We really struggled and fell apart. We just didn't play as a team," said Haines.

The next game they faced Hellgate. Haines said, "They tore us apart." The Eagles lost by 20 points.

"The coach hit us with the 1-3-1 half court zone trap and we had never seen that," said Haines. "I try to prepare for a lot of things but there are some unique things you just don't prepare for at the junior high level. I was trying to make in-game changes. We struggled with that and couldn't run our offense."

Haines said after that things picked up for the Eagles. They started meshing as a team and went into the tournament without another loss even though they lost Cierra Hinchey and Jordan Johnson to mono.

"Thank goodness we had [eighth-graders] Rose [Mercer] and Aspen [Conley] come in from Condon," said Haines. "Once they learned our system, things started clicking."

Mercer said the best part about the season was having Haines as a coach, "He's not too easy on us and he pushes us because he knows we can do better. He makes us work for it," said Mercer.

Conley was excited to be one of the Eagles' starters. She also appreciated her teammates, "They are kind and generous and they keep a smile on their face the whole game."

Because the A Team was ranked second in the league, they had a bye for the first round of tournaments. They met the Frenchtown Lady Broncs, ranked third in the league, at home March 14.

Eagle Bethany Hoag wasted no time putting up the first points for SLE. Turnovers and missed shots on both sides kept the score low for the first 10 minutes of the half and then the Eagles starting sinking shots. The first half ended with the Eagles up 21-4.

The Eagles added 32 more points for a final score of 53-16.

"We were ready. We took them apart," said Haines.

Eighth-grader Klaire Kovatch led the Eagles with 17 points followed by eighth-grader Bethany Hoag with 12 points. Also scoring: Sariah Maughan, 8; Aspen Conley, 6; Rose Mercer, 6 and Trista Wendel, 4.

The win earned the Eagles a place in the Championship game against Hellgate at the Adams Center, March 15. The Eagles took the lead early in the game but were down by five points at the half.

"I told them the game is not over. They think they are going to bury us now," said Haines. "We came out and got after them and took the lead."

Because the court was bigger than a regulation high school court, the girls were running. Haines said in the second half he thought Hellgate started looking tired so he told the girls to put on the pressure.

"My girls, down the stretch, looked stronger" said Haines. "The girls all played hard and as a team."

The game was tied at 29 and went into overtime. Hoag put up two and Kovatch and Maughan both added one from the free throw line. The Eagles won the championship 33-29.

Hoag led the Eagles with 10 points. Also scoring: Sariah Maughan, 9; Klaire Kovatch, 8; and Aspen Conley 6.

Haines said it was all heart and a never-give-up attitude that won the game. He also credited the forwards with being able to shut down Hellgate and Maughan with her ability to defend against the half court zone trap and moving the ball into scoring position.

"I'm glad we went to play, I'm glad we got that far and thank everyone for supporting us," said Hoag. "The junior high students were the biggest fans that were there. It was great."

Eighth-grader Emily Howard said, "Our team work was incredible. This was our best game of the season, my personal best game, and the best game of my four years being here."

Kovatch loved that they got to play their championship game on the Adams Center court.

"Throughout the season we just decided that we were going for it, we were not going to give up," said Kovatch who credited their success with that attitude.

Mercer echoed Kovatch, "I was kind of losing hope but we came back in and all of us worked together. The only reason we won was teamwork."

Haines said he will miss his eighth graders and looks forward to watching them play in high school.

Conley filled the forward position and just "played awesome."

Mercer added quickness at the guard and was able to steal the ball. He said she was a great addition to defense and was able to make shots as well.

Andi Bourne, Pathfinder

The Eagles' bus was escorted through town by the Seeley Lake Fire Department and local law enforcement after returning from the Championship game in Missoula.

Haines called Klaire Kovatch "the backbone of the team" because she blocks shots, steals the ball and Haines could count on double figure rebounds and double figure points nearly every game.

"She just comes in and destroys some of those teams on the interior," said Haines.

Haines said Bethany Hoag just kept getting better and better all season and was incredibly valuable to the team. She really played tough in the championship game.

After spraining her ankle, he pulled her out of overtime. At 21 seconds left in the game, she begged to be put back in. After running back and forth on the sideline, Haines put her back in. "She's got a lot of heart and helped us finish [scoring two of the four points]."

Haines said Emily Howard goes in and annihilates the other team. "She's the bowling ball in the China shop. Love having her. She's just tough on defense. She's like our Pitbull on the team."


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