Class AA State Champs: Helena Girls Basketball

The Helena High girls pose with the trophy after winning the 2019 Class AA girls basketball state championship. It was the third straight state title for the Bengals.

Hall of Fame MLB player Reggie Jackson, who was part of three straight World championships with the Oakland A’s from 1972-74, once said, “You have to win three in a row to be a dynasty.”

In the late 1980s, former Oakland Raiders’ coach turned NFL TV broadcaster John Madden was one of the first to use the term “three-peat” in reference that particular feat.

This month, yours truly revisits our local area Class AA and Class B high school (and one Legion baseball) teams with at least three consecutive championships, dating back over 100 years ago, and up to just last month.

Helena boys basketball, 1914-16

The Helena Bengals, after changing their name from the “Tigers”, became the state’s first hoops dynasty, beginning with their 17-16 shading of Missoula in the 1914 finals. No, it was not football, the low score being attributed to jump balls after every score, and a clock that never stopped.

The next year, coach Edwin “The Colonel” Thomas’s cagers successfully retained their crown, besting Missoula 21-12. And then — seven decades before the phrase was coined — Helena three-peated with a 17-15 victory over Big Timber.

Several of the top Bengals of that era were David Rowan, who started all three title games for the Capital City crew; Jack Flannery, whom longtime local sports editor Al Gaskill opined was “one of Helena’s greatest all-around athletes; and Richie Newman and Frank Johnson, both later roundballers for the University of Montana.

Helena boys basketball, 1953-55

Legendary coach Lloyd Skor guided Helena’s boys to their second trifecta, starting off with the “Towering Tigers” of 1953. So named because Ray Howard, at 6-foot-6, and Russ Sheriff, at 6-5, were equivalent to guys nowadays that would measure about two to three inches taller. Both went on to star for the Montana Grizzlies.

Helena (26-2) beat Glasgow 73-44 for the Class A title, followed by the 1954 “Sheriff and his Gang’s” (25-3) win over Sidney, 56-51, the next year. The triplicate was completed the next year, when the underdog Bengals (17-8) overcame the Spartans 59-52 for the crown.

Among the Bengals all-staters during this era were Vince Kelleher, Don Smidt, George Redhair, Bill Gilbert, Jerry Haslip, Jim Kelly and Ken Bailey. Dick House, 1955’s sixth man, went on to become an all-American at Carroll College.

Jefferson girls cross country, 1981-83

The Lady Panthers won the first of their three straight titles in 1981, outscoring runner-up Frenchtown 90-142. All five of coach Sam Samson’s scorers were underclassmen. JHS placed three girls in the top-10, led by sophomore Vanessa Sanddal, who finished seventh, ahead of Susan Brockmann and Sandy Bauer, in ninth and 10th.

In 1981, Jefferson retained its’ championship, with 67 points to second-place Cut Bank’s 111. Sanddal improved to third place, while Bauer finished ninth and Brockmann was 14th. Jefferson swept the Class B Meets in 1981-82, as the boys captured four crowns in five years (1978-79, 1981-82).

JHS got their third successive title in 1982, besting runner-up Cut bank 55-87, with four all-state athletes. Vanessa Sanddal matched her third-place medal from the year before, with teammates Jeanne Scott (sixth), Nikki Moran (10th) and Nancy Schmaus (13th) finishing in the top-15.

Jefferson boys cross country, 1987-92

When JHS reeled off its’ six successive championships, it stood as the second-longest win streak in Montana boys cross country, behind Browning’s 11 straight (1974-84). Seventeen years later, the Panthers’ mark is shared at No.3 with Flathead (1997-2002) and Missoula Loyola (1999-2004), with Bozeman (2008-present) now tied for the lead with 11.

Jefferson’s 1987 title holds the Class B record of 16 points, when they just missed a perfect score by placing 1-2-3-4-6. Two other Panther teams from that streak rate in the MHSA’s top-4 list, with the 1990 squad’s 20 points (1-2-3-5-9) and 1989 group’s 23 points (1-2-4-6-10), ranking second and fourth, respectively.

Rounding out the six-peat were the 1988 crown, 35-87 ahead of runner-up Lodge Grass; in 1991 they outdistanced Cut Bank 34-59; and in 1992, they edged Cut Bank 71-73.

JHS placed 1-2 four times during the streak, highlighted by five individual titlists, including Jim Peacock in 1987 in 15:49, Shawn Sonsteng in 1988 at 15:50, Dan Keele in 1989 at 16:01, Jason Redfield in 1990 in 15:44, and Josh Pallister in 1991 in 16:11.

State runners-up, were Tim Cutler (1987) in 16:04, Colin Bucks (1988) at 15:51, Darrell Williams (1989) in 16:14, Josh Pallister (1990) in 15:44 and Jason Redfield (1992) in 15:58.

Upon the conclusion of his 1992 championship, the Panthers threw coach Samson, a 1957 Helena High alum, into one of the ponds at Bill Roberts Golf Course. Samson retired after the season and was inducted into the Montana Coaches Hall of Fame in 1993, with 16 total state harrier crowns — 10 boys and six girls.

Capital girls soccer, 1996-2000

When coach Rick Thompson’s teams captured five consecutive state championships, the Lady Bruins went undefeated from mid-1996 through 2000, putting together a 68-game win streak while setting numerous state records. Highlighted by a No. 16 ranking in the nation, amazingly, Capital’s streak did not include a single tie.

After placing runner-up in 1994, CHS’s title victories consisted of 2-1 over Bozeman in 1996; 5-0 over Flathead in 1997; in 1998, 2-0 over Flathead; in 1999, 5-0 over Helena High; and 5-0 again over Helena in 2000.

Capital finished with a five-year overall mark of 74-1-0, while outscoring the opposition 383-21, with an incredible 50 shutouts. In 1996 the brown-and-gold scored 119 goals, and in 1998 the defense allowed just 2 scores against them.

Defender Wendy Stuker garnered three all-state selections for the Bruins during the streak, from 1997-99. Teammate Heather Olson garnered two all-state citations, in 1994-95, but was denied selection her senior year, despite setting a state record of 37 goals in a season in 1996. Laura Morin (1998-99) and Jana Literski (1999-2000) were two-time all-staters, as well.

The rest of CHS’ all-state selections during its’ five straight titles were Anna McMahon, Liz Roberts, Casey Berry, Maire Brennan, Erika Hutchison, Kathryn Hutchison, Rachel Hicks, and Kelsey Dalton.

Helena Senators baseball, 2001-03

Helena opened its’ run with a 7-4 triumph over the Great Falls Stallions in the 2001 State finals, for the program’s first title since 1968. Tanner Swanby pitched the win, and Chris Losett (3-4, 2B), Louis Corpas (2-4, HR), Jake Samuelson (2-3) and Tyler Emmert (2-4) posted multi-hit games.

In 2002, the Senators squared off against the Billings Royals in the finals in the Cat Bird Seat, needing to win just one of two games in order to repeat. After dropping the first contest, they trounced the Royals in the chipper, 13-3 for the title. Tournament Offensive and Tourney MVP Seth O’Connell pitched the win and went 5 for 6 at the plate. Swanby (4-5), BJ Underkofler (3-5), Pat Lindeman (3-6), Quinn LeSage (2-3, 2 RBIs) and Dana Driggs (2-6) also had multi-hit games. Samuelson and John Brown had 2 RBIs each.

When coach Dave Thennis’ charges completed the three-peat, they became the first AA Legion ballclub to turn the trick since the Billings Royals (1969-71). Swanby pitched the complete game 9-0 shutout over Missoula for the crown. The big hits belonged to Dana Driggs, with a 2-run single; tourney batting champ “Rattler” Samuelson, with a single and a double and two RBIs; and Nick Harris with an RBI triple.

Jefferson girls tennis, 2001-04

Jefferson’s first Class B title consisted of a 41-26 advantage over second-place Darby in 2001. JHS’ Virginia Johnson garnered the singles championship, while teammates Maggie Keating and Kemmer placed runner-up in the doubles division.

The next season, coach Dave Hohenthl’s Lady Panthers shaded runner-up Eureka 37-34 for the crown. In doubles, Emily Ellison and Stephanie Langford finished third, and Heather Weslovski took fourth in singles.

JHS made it three in a row in 2003, tallying 35 points — five more than Fairfield — sparked by Langford and Sarah Jessen’s doubles title. Their No. 2 doubles of Krista Marks and Kylie Pancich came in fourth

Capital girls soccer, 2003-05

After a two-year layoff, Lady Bruins (11-2-2) soccer returned to the mountain top, claiming the 2003 championship with a 1-0 victory over Great Falls High in the chipper.

In 2004, Capital (12-1-2) retained its crown, beating Bozeman in the chipper 5-2. And then CHS (10-3-2) went back to back to back, nipping Bozeman 1-0 in the chipper. It was coach Rick Thompson’s eighth AA championship in 10 years.

Lady Bruins earning all-state selections during the stretch were Jacque Hunthausen (a three-time all-stater), Bobbi Allard (twice), Katie Moon (twice), Leslie Boynton, Anna Frankino, and Shannon Furlong.

Capital football, 2006-08

Capital became only the second AA team since 1946 to three-peat, joining CM Russell, in 1984-86.

Coach Pat Murphy’s Bruins titles consisted of a 31-17 win over Billings West in 2006, in 2007 a 30-27 win over Billings Senior, and a 35-14 triumph over West in 2008. Their triplicate was bookended by runners-up trophies in 2005 and 2009.

The Bruins’ Class AA MVPs were composed of Colton Sherley (DE) defensive, in 2006; in 2007, Jared Hunt (QB) offensive, and Brian Bignell (DL), defensive; and Matt Miller (WR) offensive and Brad Daly (DE) defensive, in 2008.

Bruins selected first team all-state twice from 2006-08, included Miller, Daly and Michael King.

Rounding out the rest of CHS’ all-staters during the trifecta were Danny Sebastian, Nick Petrusha, Matt Williams, Sean Thornton, Clay Bignell, Grant Boynton, Abe Smith, Shaun Sampson, Casey Lamping, Joe Andriolo, Dalton Peaslee, Nick Retz, Weston Hellbush, Jake Losett,

Capital went 10-2, 12-1, 13-0, respectively, during those three championship seasons, for a combined mark of 35-3. From mid-2007 to late 2009, the Bruins won 33 consecutive games for a new Class AA record, and their five straight appearances in the Double-A chipper was also a record.

Townsend girls tennis, 2007-09

Townsend captured the first of its’ three straight Class B/C titles, 44-31 over runner-up Baker, powered by a 1-2 finish in singles by the Moudree sisters. Hannah Moudree defeated her younger sister Becky in the finals, 2-0.

The Lady Bulldogs repeated in 2008, edging Baker 37-32. Becky Moudree and Lindsay Little paced the victory with a 2-1 decision in the doubles chipper. Teammate Gaelynn Domino placed fourth in singles.

Coach John O’Dell’s Broadwater netters claimed the triplicate, with a white-knuckle triumph, nipping Baker by a single point, 34-33, for the 2009 B/C crown. Moudree became a two-time champion, pairing up with Jessica Saggisor for the doubles win, 2-0. Domino again took fourth in singles.

Helena girls basketball, 2017-19

Helena’s 2017 title, a 46-41 upset over Western AA champion Missoula Sentinel, was sparked by Kamden Hilborn’s 13 points and taking two charges; eight points each by Jamie Pickens and Kendra Kloker; and a clutch three-point play by Sam Holman.

The next year, the Lady Bengals again overcame division titlist Sentinel in the State chipper, 53-49. Hilborn poured in a game-high 22 points, while Pickens canned eight points and speared nine rebounds. Payton Aasved and Vanessa “Vee” Walsh chipped in with six counters apiece.

Coach Eric “Big E” Peterson’s hoopsters completed the latest local area dynasty last month, with an exclamation point, trouncing Billings West in the finals, 55-37. Pickens, a three-time all-stater, tossed in 18 points and collected 17 boards. Payton Aasved netted 12 points, followed by twin sister Paige Aasved with eight points, and six markers each from Emily Feller and Riley Thennis.

HHS posted a 63-8 record from 2017-19.

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Curt Synness can be reached at 594-2878 or email curt52synness@gmail.com. He’s also on Twitter @curtsynness_IR


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