Six seniors honored before a pair of narrow losses; Big Horns prepare for this week’s district 5B tournament
By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Lone Peak High School basketball celebrated six seniors and finished its first regular season as a member of Montana Class B on Saturday, Feb. 10. The Big Horns were not victorious in either varsity game, but coaches emphasized the season’s success heading into the double-elimination district 5B tournament.
The boys played first and jumped out to a 7-3 lead against the visiting Whitehall-Willow Creek Trojans. By the end of the first quarter, the Trojans took a 14-9 lead.
The Trojans extended their lead in the second quarter, despite a pair of physical scoring efforts by Big Horn senior Juliusz Shipman, the first of many impactful plays in his final home game.
“Best game of the season. He’s coming on at the right time. He had 15 [points] tonight; that’s what we need out of him,” head coach Al Malinowski told EBS. Opposing teams have focused on containing Lone Peak’s leading scorers—sophomore Ebe Grabow and junior Isaac Bedway—and Shipman is starting to take advantage.
At halftime, the Trojans had a 34-22 lead. That 12-point deficit would stick with the Big Horns throughout a competitive second half.
The Big Horns struggled to score in a defensive third quarter, falling behind by an additional 3-point margin, 44-29.
Senior Aidan Germain opened the Big Horns’ fourth quarter comeback effort by knocking down a 3-pointer. That shot completed the Big Horns’ goal for all three seniors to score in the senior night game, and it brought some momentum in the final quarter.
“It felt really good,” Germain said after the game. “We had a goal to get all the seniors to score tonight… That was the cherry on top.”
Three scores apiece by Grabow and Shipman helped the Big Horns shrink the fourth quarter deficit to eight points, trailing 57-49 with two minutes remaining. The Trojans responded by killing the clock and adding five points.
Trailing 62-49 with the final 10 seconds ticking, Lone Peak head coach Al Malinowski urged his players to commit a travel, stopping play and allowing the seniors—Shipman, Germain and Charlie Distad—to walk off the court to a standing ovation from the home crowd. The final score was 62-49 in favor of Whitehall.
Malinowski said it’s always tough to see the seniors go, but it should be comforting to know that this team’s young core “is ready to potentially take off” next year. The seniors’ leadership this season will enable future success.
Bedway, a junior, sees confidence in the future, as current freshmen grow and improve.
“I’ve learned a lot of positivity from Chuck [Distad] and Aidan this year. They’ve really helped us out with that, they’ve kept us together. Juliusz has done a really good job playing point guard and gelling the team on the floor. It’s gonna hurt to lose them,” Bedway said.
Grabow scored 17 points on Saturday night. He’ll have two more years to develop into a dominant player in Class B.
“He’s just a tough guy to guard. Even though he’s only a sophomore, it sure doesn’t look like that out there,” Malinowski said.
Of course, this team isn’t done—they’ll rematch Whitehall in the first round of the district 5B tournament on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at Manhattan Christian High School.
Malinowski still sees a team that can hang with any opponent for most of the game. Lone Peak’s roster depth continues to be a disadvantage against larger, older teams.
Mistakes add up. “One possession here, one possession there, and we’re not able to overcome that deficit because we’re constantly trying to battle that maturity difference,” Malinowski said, noting that his team is not immature, but simply young and relatively inexperienced.
“A 12- or 13-point game is really only a handful of possessions,” he added.
Going into Wednesday’s matchup against Whitehall in Manhattan, the team will need to play clean. Minimizing turnovers, shooting confidently and capitalizing on open looks will be keys to victory.
“We’re back in the same place we were last year,” Malinowski said. “We’re the underdogs again… We know from experience this year that we can play with teams from this district.”
Germain sees rising confidence among his team entering the district tournament.
“I know we can play with this team. We’re all really inspired for it, so I think it’s gonna be a good tournament,” Germain said.
Sentimental after his final home game, Distad agreed.
“I’m confident we can beat them. I’d say they’re confident they can beat us. And that’s usually how most good games go,” he said.
Shipman said his team is in good shape.
“I think we can do a lot in [practice] to stop some of their offensive sets and really analyze how to beat them,” he said. He also commended the ability of his young teammates to step into big roles and said experience will help them get a lot better in the next couple years.
Freshman Ryan Malinowski recently broke Grabow’s freshman 3-point scoring record from last season. Against Ennis on Feb. 2, Malinowski splashed his 20th 3-pointer—he extended his record to 24 with another against Whitehall on Feb. 11.
Coach Malinowski also credited freshman Miles Romney for his talent on defense. Both freshman—among other young players—will benefit from this season’s experience, plus a year of growth and development.
“I think we have a bright future, with all the freshman,” Distad said. “Playoffs this year, and whatever happens next year.”
Girls ramp up the intensity, fall in a physical game
The girls’ game began slow, and the first quarter ended in a 2-2 tie between Lone Peak and the Whitehall-Harrison-Willow Creek co-op.
By the end of the first half, offense came to life and the scoreboard showed 12-12, with Big Horn points scored by seniors Astrid McGuire and Vera Grabow, and sophomore Addy Malinowski.
Head coach John McGuire sees strength in his team’s ability “to fight hard and compete,” and in the second half of their senior night, that’s how they played.
The Trojans took control in the third quarter, leading 23-16 heading into the fourth. But as the game became increasingly physical—with many penalties and a few fouls—the Big Horns clawed back to a three-point deficit. Sophomore Harper Morris scored a few layups under heavy pressure and sophomore Maddie Wilcynski hit a 3-pointer from the corner. With just over one minute remaining, the Big Horns trailed 29-26.
The Big Horns needed to foul for possession, and the Trojans executed on two separate free throws, keeping the Big Horns down until the final buzzer. Whitehall won, 34-31.
“That was a tough loss,” coach McGuire told EBS after the emotional finish. “Defense was solid, but we didn’t in the end deliver against a team that we competed hard against.”
The offense failed to execute at times, but McGuire emphasized that the girls are playing the best basketball they have all season. He previously described the team’s youth and need to continue gaining basketball experience, and said they’ve come a long way this season.
“I really have a lot of love for this team. For the players individually and for this team as a unit, in a really tough neighborhood, in Class B,” McGuire said.
He said the team will need to put work in during the offseason to sharpen skills and learn to play 32 minutes of intense basketball—the Big Horns scored more points with more ferocity in the final seconds of Saturday’s game than in the entire first quarter.
Astrid McGuire said it’s fun to play an intense game for a home crowd, and Grabow said the crowd’s energy fed her team’s intensity.
“It’s definitely not the result that we wanted, but it’s always really fun when everyone works hard and we have a bunch of supportive fans,” Astrid said.
The Big Horns will play Thursday against Manhattan High School in the district 5B tournament at Manhattan Christian High School.
“We’re psyched to go out there and surprise some people,” coach McGuire said. “We’re gonna fight hard and compete.”
Grabow said the team will be ready to work hard at practice next week and step onto the court with confidence. “Know we have nothing to lose and do our best,” she said.
“I think the district tournament is a good way to start over,” Astrid said. “Anything can happen in the tournament so we’re going to take that and run with it. We’re just coming together as a team, I think we’re all improving together which I think is an advantage for us going into the tournament.”
Before the varsity games on Saturday, Lone Peak Athletic Director John Hannahs honored the six seniors, reciting written statements to the crowd.
Samantha Ayers manages both basketball teams, and Hannahs announced the coaches’ assessment that Ayers is “the best student-manager they have ever had.” Also a soccer and track athlete, her favorite memory from this season was watching players bond. She plans to attend University of Colorado (Colorado Springs) to study nursing.
Vera Grabow has been playing basketball since elementary school and joined the high school program in eighth grade. Her favorite basketball memories are spending time with teammates and friends during district and divisional tournaments every year.
Astrid McGuire began basketball in seventh grade. She thanked her father and coach for supporting her, and her “amazing teammates who make this team special,” Hannahs said. McGuire plans to play soccer at Bowdoin College beginning next fall.
“I have a ton of respect and love for Vera and Astrid,” coach McGuire told EBS. “They’ve been tremendous leaders and have an incredible four-year career here at Lone Peak.”
Juliusz Shipman started playing basketball in fifth grade, and his favorite basketball memories include eighth grade basketball with all his friends and classmates, and last year’s historic run to the Montana Class C state tournament. He plans to study engineering in college.
“One of those guys that got to really experience it firsthand as a starter last year,” Malinowski told EBS. “Our great run to state. Tough to make the jump to Class B as a senior—a lot of adjustment, lot of playing with really young players—but he’s always taking that in stride.”
Charlie Distad picked up basketball as a sophomore, in addition to his commitment to football. He plans attend Montana State University to study agricultural management.
“Just one of the nicest kids you’re ever gonna meet. Always a positive attitude—takes criticism well, takes coaching well. I still believe we haven’t seen what we can see out of him, and I know we’re going to see it this week. It’s time for him to really blossom,” Malinowski told EBS, emphasizing Distad’s potential to use his size advantage in the paint.
Aidan Germain started hooping in third grade, joining coach Malinowski’s intramural league. His favorite memory was beating rival Ennis High School in the Mustangs’ gym on Jan. 5.
“Gosh I wish he would have played with us last year,” Malinowski told EBS. “He’s such a great teammate. Just a mature senior that brings so much athleticism and excitement to the team, but also maturity and leadership.”