A year makes a world of difference for the Glacier Wolfpack.
In 2017, the Class AA state basketball tournament was Glacier’s to lose. Behind dominant senior post Jaxen Hashley, the Wolfpack coasted through the Western AA conference on the way to a No. 1 seed, picked up relatively comfortable wins against Billings West and Billings Skyview to advance to the state championship game and eked out a win over Bozeman to win the school’s first basketball state title.
In 2018, Glacier is happy just to be in the state tournament.
Gone are Hashley and Tadan Gilman, perhaps the two most integral pieces on last year’s state title team, and gone is the aura of invincibility the Wolfpack exuded at times on its path to the championship.
In their stead is a cast of playmakers that, while not as dominant or consistent as last year’s team, can spell trouble for any team in the state on a given day. That’s exactly what the fourth-seeded Wolfpack plans on doing this weekend, beginning with today’s opening-round game against No. 1 Great Falls CMR.
“You’ve got to embrace that underdog role,” Glacier head coach Mark Harkins said. “We’re going in with no pressure. The expectations are the 4 (seed) gets beat by the 1. Let’s beat the expectations. Let’s prove them wrong.”
While Glacier hasn’t tasted much success against the state’s elite this season, it has proven its ability to make any team sweat.
The Wolfpack posted a combined 0-6 record in regular-season contests against Missoula Sentinel, Missoula Hellgate and Flathead, the top three finishers in Western AA.
The season was chock full, however, of frustratingly close calls against those teams, as well as the best of the Eastern conference.
Glacier endured one-possession losses to Flathead, Bozeman, Hellgate and Sentinel — three of which join the Wolfpack in the state tournament — and pushed Great Falls High, another state qualifier, to overtime.
“I don’t think these guys are scared of anybody,” Harkins said. “Our record is right around .500, but we’ve played with everybody that we’ve played against … with the exception of CMR.”
Yes, there is that one, notable exception.
The Rustlers dominated Glacier throughout a 16-point win in the season opener, one of only three double-digit losses for the Wolfpack on the campaign.
This meeting can be different, though, or so Glacier believes.
Its luck against top teams finally changed in last weekend’s divisional tournament in Helena, where the Wolfpack outlasted crosstown rival Flathead in triple overtime to punch its ticket to the state tournament.
Glacier hopes to carry momentum from that performance into Billings this weekend.
If it’s able to do so, the Wolfpack could very well crash the party at which it was a marquee guest only a year ago.
“Last year, we had a lot riding on our backs,” senior guard Collin Kazmier said.
“This year, we just get to go play. There’s something nice about that.”
Evan McCullers is a sports reporter and columnist for the Daily Inter Lake. He can be contacted by phone at (406) 758-4463 or by email at email@example.com.