C.M. Russell High and Great Falls High basketball begins this week as High School Extra returns

Diondra Denton returns to lead the C.M. Russell High girls' basketball team.

Diondra Denton returns to lead the C.M. Russell High girls’ basketball team.

The winter sports season is upon us.

That’s right. We’ve seen the high school wrestlers take to the mat already as GFH edged Bozeman, and we’re a few days away from high school basketball starting in earnest.

For starters, check out our overviews of boys’ basketball and girls’ basketball that appeared in our paper Tuesday with the return of High School Extra.

One of the more intriguing early-season matchups, which was our Event of the Week, features the defending Class B and C girls’ champions facing one another Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Three Forks. Two-time Class B champion Fairfield puts its 52-game winning streak on the line against defending Class C champion Belt.

Fairfield has a ton of talent returning, including 6-4 junior Jill Barta, who is Montana’s most highly-sought girls’ player for the Class of 2014. The Eagles of coach Dustin Gordon also return All-Conference selections Synde Steinbach and Jordyn Johnson.

Meanwhile, Belt lost Tribune Super-State performer Kelsey Permann to graduation, but returns quality players in Kara Gerke, Katie Fertterer, Maggie Croff, Hannah Croff and Kellie McCafferty.

Unfortunately, the game takes place two hours before the Montana State-Sam Houston State football game kicks off, so we won’t able to cover the contest. But we’ll have the box in Saturday’s paper.

It’s also worth noting that Gordon and Belt coach Jeff Graham go back to Graham’s days at Chester High. Gordon was a teacher and coach at Chester during Graham’s formative years and the two have remained in close contact ever since.

The CMR and GFH boys’ and girls’ basketball teams open up Friday and Saturday. The Glacier boys visit CMR while the Rustler girls head to Kalispell Friday. Meanwhile, the GFH boys play at Capital Friday.

Saturday, the CMR boys play at Havre, the Havre girls play at CMR and the Flathead boys play at GFH.

Swimming also begins this weekend with both GFH and CMR competing at Havre.

Esteemed colleague Slim Kimmel of the Billings Gazette returns his preseason All-State teams for the second year. CMR’s Diondra Denton, who recently signed with Minot State, earns recognition on the Class AA team. The Class B team is littered with household names, including Barta, Choteau’s Alisha Breen, Malta’s Courtney Henry and Townsend’s Baylee Watson and Jacy Thompson.

Townsend, which Gordon calls the team to beat in Class B, suffered its only loss last season to Fairfield in the state semifinals. Thompson is one of the top players in the state regardless of class and played with a ton of poise and intelligence as a sophomore at last year’s state tournament.

Class C features Martha Dembek of Winnett-Grass Range, Fertterer and Gerke of Belt, and Chinook’s Makhayla Farmer, who is headed to MSU-Northern next year.

Slim also trotted out his preseason All-State boys’ team. GFH’s Dylan Tatarka earned mention on the Class AA squad. Malta’s Kendall Denham is on the Class B list, while Highwood’s Sam Davison and Roy-Winifred’s Chad Kananen highlight the Class C squad.

That’s all we’ve got for now. Be sure to pick up a copy of the paper Sunday as we reveal our 2012 Tribune Super-State Football team.

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