By Brandon Walker
BIG SKY – The sound of squeaking rubber-soled shoes returned to the hardwood floor of the Bough Dolan Athletic Center in early December as the Lone Peak High School varsity boys basketball team took to the court for their first practices of the season.
The Big Horns first game of the 2019-2020 season took place on Dec. 7 but games won’t begin until Jan. 5 this year due to COVID-19 precautions.
Varsity Head Coach John Hannahs believes the additional practice and preparation time will benefit his team in more ways than one.
“Absolutely, in a normal year we get 11, maybe 12 practices and [we] will usually have athletes who don’t have enough [practices] to play in the first game,” he said. “This year we get 19, so that won’t be an issue.”
A Montana High School Association requirement states that athletes must partake in 10 practices before becoming eligible to participate in any game action each season.
Four seniors graduated from last year’s team, but 18 athletes are participating across all four high school grade levels this season. Hannahs said between 11 and 12 players will dress for each varsity game with as many as 10 suiting up for coach Dave Magistrelli’s junior varsity squad.
Hannahs says the four seniors, two juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen have impressed him through their first week of practice.
“The boys have set the bar high for themselves effort-wise this first week,” he said. “They are incredibly driven and motivated for this season and it shows in how hard they work in practice.”
The Big Horns finished with a 3-15 regular season record last year and departed the district tournament after losses to West Yellowstone and White Sulphur Springs. This year, LPHS has 15 games on the schedule, beginning Jan. 5 on the road against Harrison-Willow Creek, and concluding for the regular season on Feb. 12 at home for Senior Night against Sheridan. District tournament play will take place Feb. 17-20 in Butte.
Hannahs says opposing teams may underestimate Lone Peak this year, something he believes will work in the Big Horns’ favor. Based on early observations, he also said cleaning up the glass will be something the team needs to focus on improving.
“We’re going to have to figure out a way to out-rebound larger opponents and limit second chance shots,” he said. “That and turnovers were our main struggle last year.”
The 2019-2020 season was Hannahs’ first season as the varsity team’s head coach. He has already drawn on his experience from a year ago as he preps his team for this season.
“My practice structure looks different this year,” he said. “With the extra practice time we have put an emphasis on fundamentals and conditioning. We’ll also be prioritizing game situations as that is something I feel like we didn’t spend enough time on last season.”
Of the 15 regular season contests scheduled, Hannahs pointed to rivalry matchups with West Yellowstone on Jan. 15 and Feb. 11, and Ennis on Jan. 9 as some of the games that he’s looking forward to.
“I enjoy sharing the love of the game with these guys, and we get to do that every single day which is pretty special,” Hannahs said. “But I do think that this team will do some amazing things this season and I cannot wait to be a part of it.”