HAWKS HEADED TO STATE
Last team to advance was 2003 Lady Hawks
March 3, 2022
The Lady Hawks basketball team is headed to the state tournament for the first time in nearly two decades. The Hawks took second place at the divisional tournament in Ronan last weekend, securing a bid to state. It was 2003 the last time the Lady Hawks advanced to the state tournament.
The Thompson Falls Lady Hawks took a different approach to a familiar opponent in the championship game at divisional. Saturday evening, the Hawks found themselves facing the Bigfork Valkyries once again. Bigfork beat Thompson Falls both time the teams met in the regular season. The first time the teams met in January, both were undefeated for the season. Bigfork won the first battle 69-30 in Thompson Falls. Then when Thompson Falls traveled to Bigfork in February, the Valkyries handed the Hawks a 62-45 loss.
When the two teams met at divisional, the Hawks changed their strategy. Bigfork scored a basket early in the game and the score was 2-0. The Hawks got the ball. "We knew they would start in a zone defense," Blue Hawk senior Maliyah LeCoure said of Bigfork. "We wanted them to get into man." The strategy worked, though not as quickly as the Hawks had anticipated. Thompson Falls passed the ball among their players for the remaining 7.5 minutes of the first quarter. Into the second quarter, the Hawks still were in control until the Valkyries gave in and switched to man-to-man defense. "It was funny because they (Bigfork) had no idea and they did what we wanted them to do. We didn't think it was going to be a whole quarter, but we were going to do it for however long we needed to."
Coach Chadd Laws said his team did a great job of executing the plan against Bigfork. "We had to limit the number of possessions they had to have a chance to have success against them."
The Hawks kept up with the Valkyries in the second quarter, with Chesney Lowe sinking two three-point shots. The teams were tied at seven points each in the second quarter before Bigfork took the lead, which the held 18-9 at halftime. In the second half, Bigfork took control but the Hawks didn't give up, sinking baskets and making steals. "We knew we had to play some pretty tough defense," LeCoure added. "We had to have energy and intensity the whole game. We accomplished that. We shut down their shooters." When the game was over, Bigfork won 45-26, joining their boys' team as division champs and securing the No. 1 seed for the state tournament. The Blue Hawks went into the divisional tournament a fourth seed from District 7B and came out the No. 2 seed for the west at state. "We were able to regroup. We played dang tough defense and our rebounding was better," Laws said of his team's divisional performance.
Against the Valkyries, Ellie Baxter and Lowe led the Hawks in scoring with eight points each, Cheyla Irvine added four, LeCoure three, Natalie Roberts two and Liv McCormick one point.
The road to the championship game was filled with intensity and energy for the Hawks. Thompson Falls first met Loyola in the first round of the divisional tournament, winning 51-42. The defense of both teams worked hard to keep scoring minimal in the first quarter, which ended with the Heart Breakers and Hawks tied at eight each. The teams traded shots in the second quarter and went into the locker rooms tied at 21 at halftime. The Hawks started sinking three-pointers in the third, and took the lead 38-31 going into the final quarter. The Hawks didn't back down and added 17 points in the fourth (including 13 from Baxter) to seal the win. Baxter led the Hawks' scoring with an incredible 28 points, Avery burgess added 13, Roberts nine, Lowe four and LeCoure one.
Next up for the Hawks was a rematch with Eureka, who had beat Thompson Falls a week earlier in the semifinal round of the district tournament. The Hawks didn't score until Baxter hit a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left in the first quarter, which ended with the Lady Lions up 4-2. In the second, Chesney Lowe hit a three-pointer and the Hawks took the lead. The Hawks intensified their offense and were up 15-11 at the half, fueled by additional three-point shots by Burgess and LeCoure.
The second half was all Thompson Falls as the Blue Hawks kept their momentum going for a 36-22 win over Eureka. "That was a dog fight," Laws stated. "The way we were able to end that game was important." Baxter again led the Lady Hawks in scoring with 13 points, LeCoure and Burgess added nine each, Lowe three and Roberts two points.
"We're excited for state," LeCoure said after the tournament was over. "It's an incredible opportunity to get to go play and prove who we are and show people that this little town can compete." LeCoure transferred to Thompson Falls from Stevensville this year, and she said she has loved being in Thompson Falls her senior year. "All the coaches and community have been so nice and welcoming."
Lowe, a sophomore, said she's glad to be a part of the team. She said that taking fourth at district grew a spark for the team. "We know we could do better," she noted. "Our rebounding has definitely improved this year and game together in the first two games at divisional. We've also improved on connecting as a team. Mr. Laws says most important is to love each other. We all lift each other up. We're selfless and it's a team effort." Lowe said it means a lot to be a part of Blue Hawk history and to have the next generation of Lady Hawks look up to them. She also said that it meant a lot to have so much community support at divisional. 'We could feel the energy from the crowd. It motivated us."
Coach Laws said the Hawks' defensive pressure, their focused attention on rebounding and their ability to finish the game at the free throw line were extremely important at the divisional tournament.
With the state tournament scheduled for March 10-12 in Bozeman, the Hawks have an extra week to prepare. Laws said they were going to have concise practices this week, allowing the team to take care of school work and prepare to be gone for the state tournament. "We're in great shape. We need to refine our defense, emphasize the aspects of rebounding and just get in some good shooting practice. It's nice that these girls get to experience the dream that every team before them didn't get to have."
Laws said his team is setting the stage for the next 20 years of girls basketball in Thompson Falls. "Hopefully the program can continue to meet this goal and expand on it," Laws said. "It's bigger than us just going to state. It's planting a seed in the younger generation. It's a big deal for a school our size as more and more state tournaments are being dominated by bigger schools with higher level competition."