The 2017-18 prep basketball season for the local AA schools tips off on Tuesday, with both girls teams taking part in home openers in their respective gyms.
Defending state champion Helena High hosts Butte in The Jungle, while Capital welcomes Bozeman in the Bears’ Den. Both nonconference games are slated for 7:30 p.m.
The Bengals, who captured their first AA title since 1997 last year and finished with a sparkling 20-3 record, return just two starters to the hardcourt this winter.
But they’re a pair of good ones.
Senior Kamden Hilborn, a 5-foot-7 guard, is a two-time all-stater, and the State Tournament MVP. She averaged 10.1 points per game, and led the AA with 4.8 assists per game. Hilborn was also No. 1 in the state with 63 steals.
Jamie Pickens, a 6-2 junior, earned all-conference as a freshman before making the 2017 all-state team at the post position. The University of Montana commit was ranked No. 2 in the state with 8.9 rebounds per game, and third in scoring at 14.9 ppg. Pickens, who was also an all-tourney selectee, led the AA in fied goal percentage, netting 107 of 210 from the floor for 51 percent accuracy.
“Kam is a winner, and an amazing three-sport athlete,” fifth-year Helena coach Eric Peterson said, “and Jamie is one of the best basketball players in the state.”
Peterson reported he has two returning lettermen on the roster, in juniors Vanessa Walsh and Madelyn Mariegard. Mariegard was a teammate of Hilborn’s on HHS’ state championship soccer team this fall.
The Bengal skipper said his starting lineup will not be determined until Monday, but lists several other top players as junior identical twins Paige and Payton Aasved, and sophomores McKayla Kloker and Abby Marcille. At 5-11, Marcille is among the Bengals' taller cagers.
Peterson owns a four-year career record of 46-40 with the red-and-white. After a slow start, his teams have gone 33-14 over the past two seasons.
“We will continue to push the ball up the floor this season,” answered Peterson, regarding his group’s team strengths. “And we’ll rely on our returning starters to set the tone for the rest of the program.”
Capital, under longtime coach Bill Pilgeram, went 14-9 last year, while qualifying for state for the 10th time in 11 seasons under his direction.
The Bruins return plenty of experience, composed of seven lettermen – including all five starters – two of whom garnered post season awards.
Taylor Sullivan, a 6-2 senior post, was selected first team all-state. She was No. 7 in the AA under the boards, at 6.8 rebounds per game, and ninth in scoring with an 11.1-points average. Sullivan led the state with 46 blocked shots.
Junior guard Sydney Sheridan ranked fourth in the state in assists and free-throw percentage, averaging 3.33 dishes a game, while swishing 66-87 from the charity stripe for 75.9 percent. Sheridan, at 5-8, averaged 7.7 points.
“Taylor is one of the best all-around post players in the state … she can score both in the post and from the perimeter,” Pilgeram said. “She is one of our best passers in the program and makes everyone around her better.
“Sydney is … already playing in her third season as varsity point guard. She has improved every year and has really improved her shooting range to go with her outstanding athleticism.”
Also returning to the starting lineup are seniors Katie Culver and Kacie Gross and junior Megan Lindbo. Lindbo averaged 6.9 points, while Culver averaged 5.5 rebounds. Other returning lettermen are senior Ayanna Syvrud and junior Emily Kidder.
“This is one of the most experienced teams that I’ve had at Capital, (which) should lead to a very mature, balanced team,” related Pilgeram, whose career record stands at 166-83. “We’ve already been able to do more in practice and are way ahead of where we usually are at this point.”
Along with Sullivan, the brown-and-gold’s tallest hoopsters are freshmen twins Paige and Dani Bartsch, at 6-3 and 6-1, respectively.
NOTE: The Capital and Helena boys hoops previews will appear in Tuesday’s paper.