Sandpoint tips off state today against Preston

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  • (Photo by JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY) Sandpoint has overcome the loss of three key players this season, including Audrey Matilla, pictured here shooting a free throw, and Mya Darling and Danika Tomazich. Some freshmen have stepped up to fill the void.

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    (Photo by LISA JAMES/Press) Sandpoint juniors Katherine Kaul, left, is part of a long and athletic trio of perimeter defenders that will play a big role in the Bulldogs’ success at state.

  • (Photo by JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY) Sandpoint has overcome the loss of three key players this season, including Audrey Matilla, pictured here shooting a free throw, and Mya Darling and Danika Tomazich. Some freshmen have stepped up to fill the void.

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    (Photo by LISA JAMES/Press) Sandpoint juniors Katherine Kaul, left, is part of a long and athletic trio of perimeter defenders that will play a big role in the Bulldogs’ success at state.

SANDPOINT — There are no state championship basketball banners hanging on the walls of Les Rogers Court, and a hungry group of Bulldogs takes the floor at the 4A Idaho State Tournament today hoping to change that.

The Bulldogs are led by high-scoring guards Grace Kirscher and Trinity Golder, boast a lot of returning state experience and are looking to finally break through for a state title when they tip off today against Preston.

After consecutive third place finishes, and riding a late wave of strong play, the Bulldogs boast high hopes to bring home some state hardware.

“I think we’re playing our best ball the last three or four games. We need to win that first game, it’s always the most important,” said Bulldogs head coach Duane Ward, whose last two teams went 2-1 at state. “Every year we go down there it’s with the idea of bringing something home. I don’t think the kids are in awe. Some of them have been down there a couple of times.”

Opponents who take the Bulldogs (10-11) lightly based off their record will do so at their own peril, as their schedule was brutal. They played three games against 5A state qualifiers Lake City and Post Falls, another two against 5A opponents and yet two more against reigning 3A champs Timberlake, arguably the best team in North Idaho.

But right now the Bulldogs’ focus is solely on Preston (16-7), a team that has scored 50 or more points 14 times this season and also handled 4A power Bishop Kelly earlier in the season. First year coach Kimber Hall led Sky View, Utah, to a 4A state title in 2014-15 and has the team trending up.

“Preston is very athletic. They like to get up and down the court and play fast, and pressure on defense,” said Ward, noting his team is fine with up and down tempo. “We’re going to go get after you. You’ll have to prove that you can beat us. We give them some rules and just say ‘go play basketball.’”

Kirscher, 6-1, has reached the 20 point plateau in scoring 10 times this season, while Golder, 5-11, has hit the mark five times, including a pair of 25 point outbursts against Lakeland. The pairs’ length on the perimeter can cause trouble for opposing offenses.

Both players can score from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, creating difficult match ups, and could be the best guard tandem in the tournament.

“Golder is such a great shooter, she’s learned to drive more and rebound,” described Ward. “Kirscher knows when to take over now. She can penetrate and open people up.”

Ward said the key will be how well the rest of the team can complement the pair, hoping that five or six other players can find their way into the scoring column.

The Bulldogs have some strong role players, starting with 6-1 post Grace Hicks, who anchors the middle defensively. Taylor Ward, the team’s lone senior, brings energy and leadership to the floor, along with a tone-setting brand of hustle. Katherine Kaul, Callie Laybourne and freshmen Maddie Morgan and Dawson Driggs will also see plenty of minutes.

Most of the Bulldogs’ offensive sets will run through the dynamic pair of guards.

“They complement each other really well. They have learned to pass better,” admitted Ward. “What those two do together opens it up for the other kids.”

Taylor Ward feels like the team is peaking at the perfect time, and if all goes well, could be contending for the school’s first ever championship banner.

“If we play how we’ve been playing, we have a very good chance of winning state,” she predicted, noting there will be plenty of obstacles along the way. “We can’t lose our composure.”

Tipoff is at 12:15 p.m. today at Mountain View High School.

Bob Witte will call the games live on AM1400 and 105.3 FM, and Idahosports.com will webcast all state games live.

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