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Growing up in the Flathead Valley, playing basketball since first grade, Grant Wallace looked up to one team more than any other: the Columbia Falls Wildcats.Today Wallace and a group of tight-knit teammates in royal blue and white tower over Larry Schmautz Memorial Court and the rest of Montana, reigning state champions full of bravado and high aspirations.“We know that we can compete with any team out there,” Wallace said.At 12-2 overall and 5-0 in Northwestern A with barely a month left in the season, the boys are writing another memorable chapter in the storied history of Columbia Falls basketball.This one has a unique twist.Head coach Cary Finberg has had a lot of weapons at his disposal over the last 19 years – talent, speed, athleticism – but he’s never had two skyscrapers quite like this.Meet the Grants.Wallace and Grant Stenger both stand 6-foot-7, giving Columbia Falls a tormenting presence in the paint unlike any other team in the state.“It’s insane. In practice if you ever go in the key, you’re always knowing that your shot could be blocked at any moment,” said Ty Morgan, a senior guard and starter who is averaging nearly 20 points per game, fourth most in Class A.“You can just lob it up to them and they make plays,” said Trevor Houston, a senior guard and starter averaging nearly five assists per game and two steals. “To have two of them is pretty crazy, especially two guys with as much talent as they have.”Morgan, Houston and the rest of the team’s sharp-shooting guards have been able to thrive in Finberg’s offense, benefiting from the extra attention opponents have to pay down low, where the Grants loom.Combined, the Grants are averaging 20 of the team’s 66 points per game. They’re also grabbing an average of 14 combined rebounds per game.They complement each other by excelling in different areas. Stegner, a senior, has emerged as a top-notch defender who challenges every opposing shot and chases every rebound. In last year’s state title game, he had key blocks down the stretch that secured the team’s fifth championship since 2003 and first since 2011.“He rose to the occasion and showed up at the right time,” Finberg said. “He’s just taken it from there, and he’s living up to the hopes he would have as a senior.”Wallace, a junior, is blooming into an offensive standout with a rare potential for greatness.“If there’s one word that suits him, it’s potential. He’s got a chance to be very, very good,” Finberg said.The potential of this entire Wildcat team has already shined bright.Columbia Falls traveled to Bigfork earlier this season to take on the reigning Class B state champions, who were riding a 31-game win streak dating back to last season.Wallace and Stenger combined for 21 points and dismantled the Vikings’ high-powered offense, holding Bigfork to 43 points, its lowest total this season.“Against Bigfork, stopping their 31-game win streak was pretty huge for us. And (Wallace and Stenger) completely dominated in that game,” Morgan said. “It doesn’t always show in the box score, but they’re definitely the center of our team.”Finberg added, “That was the most complete game, start to finish, offensively and defensively, that we’ve played all year. For us to go into that environment and play a team that had won 31 games in a row, and to play like we did, it was good to see, especially with Christopher (Finberg) and the other coaches handling the duties.”Finberg is again juggling coaching duties for both the boys and girls teams. His boys are the top-ranked team in Class A, just ahead of rival Dillon, according to the Associated Press weekly polls.The girls team is similarly demanding attention and respect as a title contender. The Wildkats are 12-1 overall and 5-0 in conference.“The way both seasons are going, it makes it a lot easier to come to practice when you’re successful like we are,” Finberg said.It’s a bittersweet year for the Columbia Falls native because it’s the final year that both of his daughters will be playing in a Wildkat uniform.Cierra Finberg, a senior, is averaging 12.54 points per game, most in the conference, and sister Cydney, a sophomore, is averaging eight.The girls team, like the boys team, features a group of players who have been friends and teammates almost their entire lives. Finberg has watched them all grow up, and it’s making this season an unforgettable one.“This is a special year. We’ll see where it goes,” he said.It won’t be without its challenges. On the boys side, there’s a familiar foe standing just as tall as the Wildcats.Dillon, which lost to Columbia Falls 56-47 in last year’s title game, is 10-1 and 5-0. The Beavers are one of only two teams that have defeated Columbia Falls this season, winning 64-44 at the Class A Tip-Off Tournament in Missoula in early December.“I think that was actually good. We learned from our mistakes and now we’re coming back with more fire,” Stenger said.Dillon and Columbia Falls have met in the title game four of the past six years, each winning two apiece.The two talented squads appear destined to collide again, but that’s not atop the boys’ minds.“We never say we’re going to win the state championship, it’s that we’re going to get better every day and try to make it through divisionals and give ourselves a chance at state,” said Morgan. “If we can keep doing that and getting better everyday, we’ll be a team to watch down the stretch.”
A small group of Fairway homeowners and business near the intersection of 60th Street and Mission Road will have water service interrupted Sunday morning as crews from WaterOne work on a pipeline that crossed under the road.Fairway Police Chief Mike Fleming alerted city residents in an email Thursday that the water utility would begin work as early at 7 a.m. on Sunday, two hours earlier than is normally permitted by city code.“[T]he impact on public health and safety requires and allows the exemption in this case,” Fleming wrote. “To minimize excess noise on Sunday morning WaterOne has assured the City that any work involving heavy machinery that can be completed ahead of time will be taken care of during normal hours by Friday April 15th.”WaterOne has been working to directly notify customers whose water service will be affected during the work Sunday. The work is scheduled to be completed by 10 a.m.
THIS IS A PROMOTED POST FROM AVer INFORMATION INC.AVer has announced a collaboration focused on creating videoconferencing technologies that work with Microsoft software. AVer Video Collaboration Solutions for Microsoft will be a complete line of AVer USB videoconferencing products developed and certified with Microsoft Teams in mind. These AVer products will feature HD cameras, professional-grade speakers, far-field microphones and will connect to any Windows 10 PC via a single USB cable.Through this collaboration, AVer Information Inc. offers an elevated meeting room experience to Microsoft Teams users by providing meeting spaces that will work with Microsoft software. AVer’s enterprise-grade videoconferencing solutions also include innovations such as SmartFrame, True WDR, IP-based management and streaming.AVer, in collaboration with Microsoft, delivers vibrant HD video and brilliant audio to Microsoft Teams workspaces. The first AVer products to be certified for Microsoft Teams, the CAM540 and CAM520 PRO conference cameras, were tested using Microsoft’s Teams criteria to validate audio and video quality and determine their compatibility with Microsoft’s Teams features.AVer’s technology brings Microsoft users video collaboration solutions to any meeting space. Check out the videocast I recorded with Wayne Driggers, VP of product for AVer, below: