HELENA – 2017 had been challenging for the Carroll College women.

The Fighting Saints, ranked 25th at the time, won their first game of the new year – a 64-60 overtime victory against UGF – before faltering in their next four Frontier Conference contests. Two of those losses came by two points.

With the league season slowly slipping away, the Saints knew Saturday’s home game against Rocky Mountain College was reaching must-win territory and the team responded with a 71-50 throttling of the Battlin’ Bears.

“I don’t think we were surprised, we knew Rocky was on a back-to-back,” said Carroll forward Hannah Dean. “That does hurt, we have a lot of those, so we knew they were on that back-to-back and we really wanted to run on them and get an early jump and I think we did that.”

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Dean provided the early spark with fellow post Cassidy Hashley finishing the job. Head coach Rachelle Sayers was quick to point out Dean’s contributions in the first quarter – she scored the team’s first eight points – but noted it’s another portion of her game that stood out.

“Hannah is such a good passer and makes everything so easy on the perimeter. She hits guards, she hits the post or she can shoot it so she’s a match-up nightmare,” said Sayers. “When she’s really aggressive she does great things for us. We’ve talked a lot about her and her foul trouble because when we lose her it changes the dynamics of the game for us so that was probably the biggest difference was Hannah staying in the game and allowing us to execute things we wanted to execute.”

Dean notched four assists in the win over Rocky, second-best on the team. Many of those passes hit Hashley on the opposite block, but Dean also noted the teammates on the perimeter for their work.

“Our 3-point shooters are huge, especially when the defense doubles Cassidy and I,” she said. “Rocky didn’t double but we got them in a zone and that opens the shooters up even more. Our 3-point shooters come up huge, they really work on it and they knocked some big shots down.”

But Carroll, which hit nine triples in the Rocky win, begins and ends with some combination of Hashley, Dean and fellow forward Baylee Watson. Other teams have caught on to the Saints’ plan, although their defensive attack has only slowed, not stopped Carroll’s big three.

“It’s been tough on our posts, they see something different every game and to get them comfortable and confident, going into their moves – some teams pick and choose their poison,” said Sayers. “Western went single coverage on us a lot and then started to double us when we put it on the ground so a lot of teams are doing different things. We were lucky that Hannah did a great job facing up and attacking early. Cassidy got more comfortable and that makes a big difference because everything we do is geared toward our posts and when they start getting going you’ll see our guards get open and get nice, easy shots.”

Hashley mentioned a different energy in the Saints’ locker room following the game, almost a celebration of sorts. Sayers acknowledged the team’s response after snapping their skid, and believes it could put their season back on the right track.

“I was really relieved and happy for them,” said Sayers. “I knew they were excited and they knew they worked hard and they knew this was one we had to get. I’m just proud of them for sticking with it and they keep on working because you lose those games and you have two choices – you can bury yourself and feel sorry for yourself while pointing fingers and playing the blame game or they can come together and decide, ‘We’ve had enough.’ I think that was the choice they made.”

Carroll College travels to MSU-Northern and the University of Great Falls this weekend.