Girls Championship Class AA

Helena's Kamden Hilborn (22) holds up two fingers to teammate Vanessa Walsh (14) to indicate the second state title for the Bengals after they defeated Missoula Sentinel in the championship game of the Class AA state girls basketball tournament at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark last March. Walsh returns for her senior season, but Hilborn has moved on to Montana State.

Class AA girls basketball

2017-18 top three: 1) Helena, 2) Missoula Sentinel, 3) Bozeman

2018-19 storyline

Can Helena three-peat? The two-time champion Bengals return four starters, including future Lady Griz and Gatorade Player of the Year Jamie Pickens, but the departed Kamden Hilborn (Montana State) leaves a vacuum. Hilborn, who averaged 11.7 points per game, was big in the biggest moments for Helena, and her steadiness will be missed. Still, it’s tough to feel sorry for the Bengals with the return of Pickens, who averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds per game. Standing in Helena’s way could be Billings West, which entered last year’s state tournament 18-2 and on a 12-game winning streak. But the Golden Bears went 1-2 at state, leaving without a trophy. They, too, return four starters and nearly everybody else, and with a handful of players near the 6-foot mark or taller, will be a tough matchup for just about any team. Missoula Sentinel has reached the title game six of the last eight seasons, and though they were hit hard by graduation, the Spartans should always be considered a contender until they perform otherwise. There will be a group of teams — Bozeman? Helena Capital? Billings Senior? Kalispell Glacier? — jostling for position behind Helena and West in their respective conferences, waiting for their opportunity should those two teams leave an opening.

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One big number

460: That’s the number of 3-pointers attempted by Helena last season, which was 89 more attempts than Billings Senior, which had the second-most.

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