A memorable 2017-18 season for the Belle Fourche High School girls basketball team saw the Lady Broncs claim their first Black Hills Conference title since 1995 and advance to the State A tournament, where they earned a sixth-place finish.
With the loss of eight players to graduation, the feeling was Belle Fourche would face a rebuilding task for the 2018-19 campaign.
Head coach Bill Burr and the current BFHS players felt otherwise, and backed up the feeling with a 7-0 start.
"We knew we were going to be competitive," said Burr. "We have high expectations and haven't played our best game yet."
Burr credits three seniors — Rylee Young, Ashley Byrd and Payson Birkeland for much of the team's success.
"Rylee hustles all over the floor and gives 110 percent. Ashley is tall, lanky and quick for her size. She can shoot the outside three-pointer. Payson will battle inside with anyone. We expect eight rebounds a game from her,” Burr said.
"All three seniors have contributed every game," he said.
Belle Fourche’s roster is also bolstered by the addition of Spearfish junior transfer Harley Fischer and returning sophomore letter winner Bella Jensen.
"Harley handles the ball and can shoot the three-pointer," said Burr.
Belle Fourche tipped off the season edging Hill City 43-40 in a Black Hills Conference home contest on Dec. 7.
"It wasn't pretty," said Burr. We had 25 turnovers and shot zero-for-eight from three-point range,” Burr recalled.
However, there was a big positive.
"We played good defense," he said.
The Lady Broncs rallied from a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 51-48 conference triumph at Sturgis Brown on Dec. 11.
"We were down nine, called a time out and talked to the girls," said Burr.
Fischer nailed a clutch three-pointer, and the Lady Broncs excelled at the free-throw line, made 25-of-29 from the stripe for the night, while Sturgis struggled from the line on its home floor. Young finished 10-of-12, and Birkeland was a flawless eight-for-eight.
“It was a good defensive game for us," Burr added.
Belle Fourche swept Wyoming opponents Sundance (69-23) and Newcastle (63-25) in impressive style during the Stateline Shootout on Dec. 14-15.
"We pressured the ball and got some turnovers against Sundance and Newcastle," said Burr. Fischer sank six 3s and Jensen hit two threes in the Sundance game. Jensen, Fischer and Byrd all reached double-figure scoring in the win over Newcastle, he said.
Belle Fourche made the northern trek to Lemmon on Dec. 21 and collected a 65-40 win. "Rylee had 21 points, including three three-pointers," said Burr. "That was the best second half we played all season. We clamped down on defense and attacked their zone well."
The Lady Broncs met Aberdeen Roncalli and Madison in the St. Thomas More Christmas Classic at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Dec. 28-29, avenging losses to the same teams during the State A tourney last March.
"We hustled and got up and down the court against Aberdeen Roncalli," said Burr of the 59-55 win. "It was the best game we played all season."
Belle vaulted to a 19-2 lead and Birkeland grabbed 13 rebounds en route to a 51-40 win over Madison.
“We pressured them and got some early turnovers," said Burr. "Our inside players had a big game.”
In spite of the strong start, Burr said the Lady Broncs are still trying to establish their identity as a team. They hope to build on their team speed and the good defense they’ve shown early on in the year.
Burr said Red Cloud, Sturgis Brown and St. Thomas More are teams to reckon with in the BHC. Hill City and Lead-Deadwood are also not to be overlooked, he said.
The Lady Broncs face a pivotal matchup on the road at Red Cloud on Saturday.