Arlee primed for another state title run

by Whitney England
Daily Inter Lake | March 12, 2020 9:30 AM

After going 0-8 in conference play this season, the Arlee Warriors basketball team is finally in peak performance mode after they claimed the Western B Divisional Champ-ionship Feb. 29.

“That’s kind of been our whole theme – oh and eight, all the way to state.” Arlee coach Zachary Conko-Camel joked.

Despite the team’s regular season struggles, the Warriors are headed to the Montana Class B State Championships in Butte this weekend.

Over the last three games in particular, Arlee has really come together as a team. The Warriors were able to knock down outside shots during divisionals, which helped them compete in a very physical 6B division.

“The team is really excited and they’re really getting into form,” Conko-Camel said. “All the shots are going down in practice, I’m looking forward to a great showing.”

Conko-Camel also expressed that dropping close games earlier in the season was not holding the boys back from their potential, but rather necessary building blocks to form a team ready to compete at state.

“I think all that battle testing is getting us ready for state,” Conko-Camel said. “I think we had to get over a couple hurdles – one was turnovers, one was rebounding. So we finally figured those things out, figured out how to finish games and we’ve had really great results since.”

Although Arlee’s record is lousy at first glance, the Warriors have only lost a small handful of games by double digits, including three close games in overtime.

The 2019-20 season designated a transitional year for Arlee. The Warriors moved to playing in Class B after competing in Class C. Conko-Camel agreed the higher, more physical class was an adjustment, but additionally the team had to overcome many other changes.

“The bigger adjustment was their new coach, new process, and new culture we’re developing here,” Conko-Camel said. “It’s been a big change but they’ve rose to the occasion, they’ve followed the direction and now their ready to take the big final step and be a part of history.”

The coaching change he spoke of was a rocky one too.

Former head coach Zanen Pitts, who led Arlee to two state titles, resigned after not being able resolve differences with the Arlee School District. The resignation was an uneasy time for the storied basketball program.

It might have taken them a whole season to accept all of the changes and jell as a team, but Arlee chose the right time to connect on the court.

During divisionals the four Arlee seniors stepped up tremendously. Cody Tanner and David Haynes often led the team in scoring throughout the weekend. Then big-man Zach Running Crane was a huge rebounding force and Billy Fisher played great defense, forcing many turnovers.

“We have four seniors that hadn’t played a lot these last three years, but this is their year and they all bought in,” Conko-Camel said. “They’re following the plan and the process. Things are working out for us, so I think we look really good going into state right now.”

Arlee will take on the Northern Division No. 3 seed Rocky Boy in the first round of the 2020 MHSA Boys Basketball State Championships at 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the Butte Civic Center.

Reporter Whitney England may be reached at 758-4419 or wengland@dailyinterlake.com