MISSOULA — When the Missoula Sentinel coaching staff called for a meeting early Thursday morning, Sam Beighle and his team didn't know what to expect.
Because the coaching staff still had the players' phones, and didn’t let the players get their phones until after the meeting, Beighle thought the tone of the meeting was going to be a negative one.
"We all thought we were in trouble or something," Beighle said.
Instead, the coaching staff broke the news that Beighle was named the 2017-2018 Montana Gatorade Player of the Year.
"It was pretty funny actually," Beighle said, looking back on the meeting. "... We were all pretty excited."
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound guard had led the Spartans to a 17-3 record and the No. 1 seed from the Western AA to begin the state tournament. Beighle averaged 22.8 points — which leads the AA — 7.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals through 20 games. A four-time All-Conference honoree, he was named to the all-state tournament team as a junior.
Beighle hit the 1,000 career points mark in Sentinel’s second crosstown matchup against Missoula Big Sky and has made a whopping 360 field goals in his four-year varsity career with a handful of games left to play.
“It means a lot,” Beighle said of winning the award. “It's just really cool to see all of the hard work I have put in over the years finally be recognized in an award. It's the greatest feeling.”
Beighle has maintained a 3.96 grade point average and has signed a letter of intent to play college basketball at Carroll College.
Beighle is the 10th Spartan — regardless of sport — to win the award since Gatorade began giving out player of the year accolades in 1986. He’s the first boy to win the award since Andy Garland won for basketball in 2008. Two Spartan girls have been crowned queens of their sports more recently, as both Brittany Delridge and Elsa Godwin were named Player of the Year in 2016 for soccer and volleyball, respectively.
There have been five Spartans — boys and girls — to be named Gatorade Player of the Year in basketball. Outside of Beighle and Garland, the Sentinel boys took home back-to-back accolades in 2003 and 2004 with Eric Henkel and Jordan Hasquet. The first Spartan to win the Gatorade Player of the Year award regardless of sport was Karen Deden for her talents in the post in 1987.
“To bring something like this to Sentinel is awesome because it just reflects positively on the school and specifically our basketball program,” Beighle said.
Beighle and the Spartans will take on Billings Senior at 8 p.m. on Thursday to open the state tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.