By Brandon Walker
BIG SKY – The seventh- and eighth-grade Ophir Miners boys basketball team recently finished their season with a near .500 record of 4-5.
Fourteen players took the court for the seventh- and eighth-grade Miners team this year including seven eighth graders and seven seventh graders on the roster.
Head coach Ben Holst called it a “weird season” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the Big Sky School District continues to grow, Holst said that a constantly shifting schedule complicated the season for a team that also welcomed new athletes to the court. Holst also coaches the Miners’ football team and said he was familiar with a majority of his roster this season but also enjoyed meeting and working with the athletes that he didn’t previously know.
“That’s probably the highlight for me is new faces and seeing guys find new abilities over the course of the season,” Holst said.
The seven eighth graders will have the opportunity to move up to join the junior varsity and varsity Lone Peak Big Horns teams next season.
Holst served as an assistant coach for the varsity boys’ program this season and is optimistic about the team’s future. He pointed to collaboration between coaches at various grade levels and a constant presence after multiple coaching changes at the varsity level in recent years.
“But I think we’ve turned a corner and the Lone Peak program should see … gradual steps of improvement each year for the next several years,” he said.
Following a 23-17 victory over the Amsterdam Cougars on Feb. 18, the fifth- and sixth-grade Ophir Miners boys team capped off an undefeated 12-0 season.
“What I’m most excited about is watching the continuous improvement, and along the way watching this group of boys play together so well,” said fifth- and sixth-grade coach Al Malinowski.
The 15-player team was comprised of 12 sixth-grade students and three fifth-graders. Almost every fifth- and sixth-grade Miner scored a point this season—one of the team’s goals, Malinowski said—as 14 players found the score sheet and five different athletes paced the squad in various games with team-high scoring efforts.
Malinowski described the players as “unselfish” and said they’re willing to pass to an open teammate even if they have an opportunity for a shot.
“If anything the confidence that I see developing in this group—the confidence in their individual abilities, but just as importantly in the overall team and each other—is what I was most excited about seeing come out of this season,” Malinowski said.
When it came time for the fifth- and sixth-graders to toe the free-throw line, more times than not they were successful. The team hit foul shots at a rate of better than 50 percent over the course of the season with a 52-for-102 collective effort.
The 12 sixth-grade students could join the seven returning seventh graders to form a deep seventh-and-eighth grade Ophir Miners boys’ team next season.
Meanwhile, the Ophir Miners girls’ team, which began play in November, concluded their season in early December. At the middle-school level the winter athletics season consists of an early and late portion, and the boys and girls rotate schedules every other year. As a result, next season the girls will participate in the latter portion.
Due to low-athlete turnout, grades five, six, seven and eight were combined to form the 11-player roster. Two eighth graders, three seventh graders, five sixth graders and a fifth-grade student comprised the Miners’ team. OMS played eight games this season, according to Lone Peak High School Athletic Director John Hannahs.
“I mean they did a lot with their numbers,” Hannahs said. “There is some real talent in that group for sure, so that’ll be exciting to watch those seventh graders and sixth graders play their seventh- and eighth-grade year.”
Hannahs added that he is hopeful more girls will participate at the middle school level next season.
The eighth-grade student could move on next season to join as many as eight returning athletes who competed for the Lone Peak High School Lady Big Horns varsity team this year. The seventh- and sixth-graders will remain to form a seventh- and eighth-grade team next season, depending on athlete participation, according to Hannahs.