By FRITZ NEIGHBOR
Daily Inter Lake | February 16, 2022 9:45 PM
Connor Sullivan’s 3-point shooting may shock some basketball onlookers, but since the senior led the Wolfpack from beyond the arc a year ago, it shouldn’t.
The 5-foot-10 guard has also become a main weapon for Glacier, which takes a three-game winning streak into tonight’s crosstown home game with Flathead.
In that time Sullivan has poured in 49 points, raising his season average to 12.1 a game.
“Connor played a lot last year, but he has really stepped up into that primary scorer role,” said Glacier coach Mark Harkins, whose club plays the Braves at 7:30 p.m. (the girls crosstown game is at 6). “I can’t say I’m surprised. Back to this past summer, he was shooting the ball very well and consistently.
“I guess what I really like is that Connor has that confidence that he can miss a couple in a row, and know it’s his job to be a shooter, and put it back up.”
Glacier is 5-6 in Western A games (6-9 overall), boasting a lineup that had to replace three starters. Sullivan’s 40 3-pointers are among the most in AA; spacing helps the Pack get the ball to 6-7 Noah Dowler, 6-5 John Pyron or 6-4 Nolan Hyde.
“Last year we had Weston Price and Keifer Spohnhauer (on the outside), and they’re all pretty good,” Sullivan said. “I just kind of looked up to them and waited. But Coach Harkins and I had a talk about how guys like me, Will Salonen and Ty Olsen maybe needed to take that role a little bit.”
Sullivan was the top sniper in 2020-21, though, hitting 22 threes. Yet his value goes beyond that: Many times Harkins sticks him on the opponent’s most dangerous guard.
“Another thing I really appreciate is he’s a great go-between,” Harkins said. “Between the coaching staff and the team – he has a great way of reading the situation, and if things are a little heavy, he can make it light. But he also knows how to challenge his teammates.”
“I want to have a good time during practice, and games,” Sullivan allowed. “At the same time… I’m competitive and I want to win, too.”
Glacier football coach Grady Bennett saw the same qualities: A quick-witted player who was intense enough to excel in all three phases.
“Maybe he doesn’t come across as that intense,” Bennett said. “When the chips are down, man, that guy is going to compete.
“With football, he just seemed to come up when we needed him the most. He just seemed to be at his best when we needed it. That’s a sign of a great player.”
Sullivan caught 45 passes, second only to teammate (in football and basketball) Jake Turner, for 764 yards last fall. He was second-team All-State at receiver; his work on corner and special teams got him first-team honors as “athlete” on defense.
His end zone interception and 59-yard scoring reception guided the Wolfpack over Helena Capital in September; his 82-yard kickoff return for a TD at the end of the first half sparked an October win over Hellgate — a game in which he picked off two more passes.
Bennett said every offseason he challenges his returning players to match what Evan Epperly did from his junior year (good) to senior season (really good). He calls it, ‘’The Leap.”
“For years I’ve talked about Evan Epperly,” Bennett said. “Well, Connor Sullivan did the same thing this fall. He really became a three-way starter. I knew he had that kind of ability, but to see him make that kind of leap from junior to senior year, it’s awesome.”
His gifts on the gridiron have landed him at Carroll College, the Frontier Conference power in Helena.
“My aunt and some uncles went to Carroll,” Sullivan noted. “I kind of want to get into education. My dad, his brothers have all taught. I just wanted to follow them and see what developed.”
Sullivan’s father, Bill, coached the Glacier girls for three seasons. If it’s a given that a coach’s kid got in some extra gym time, the player still has to make them in games.
The Pack started 1-4, including an 84-60 loss to a very good-shooting Bozeman Hawk squad. The other three losses came by three, two and three points.
Last week Glacier handed Helena Capital its first loss, 48-34. The Bruins were without dynamic guard Brayden Koch, who just returned to the lineup this week after a bout with mono.
“But they had beaten three teams without him anyway,” Harkins said. “Shoot, we held them to 10 at halftime. The defensive effort in both games (including a 52-37 win at Helena High) was excellent.”
Capital had the makings of a charge in the third quarter but Sullivan hit his third three of the game to help quell that. He finished with 17 points.
“Fearless shooting,” Harkins said.
“These past two weeks we’ve been doing a good job of, when that happens, just known to calm down and get focused,” Sullivan said. “We kind of started going on a little run, got the lead back up. And we just kept going.”