HELENA — Since 1973, Carroll College has been a front-runner in the Frontier Conference. This past Saturday, alumni from each of those five decades descended upon the P.E. Center for a celebration of history.
Athletes, coaches, managers and trainers associated with the Carroll women’s basketball program made it to the Capital City from all over the world to commemorate the Fighting Saints and that history.
“It was a tremendous weekend to have all of our alumni back, and see so many players back and their families and see how excited they were to be back here and celebrate 50 years of women’s basketball. This doesn’t happen often, (so) enjoy the moment,” coach Rachelle Sayers told her team ahead of the exhibition game against Division I Montana State, which saw the Bobcats defeat Carroll, 73-63 in a back and forth heater.
Sayers took over the program in May of 2011 and guided the team to the Round of 16 at last year’s NAIA tournmanent in Souix City, Iowa. Carroll's first collegiate victory came in January of 1974 at home against Montana Western by forfeit as the Bulldogs did not show up for the game.
"It was a different world, we did not have the crowds, I love the crowds and the fans,” Shelley Mitchell said.
Mitchell was a part of Carroll's 1979-80 hall of fame team that went 19-9 and placed third at the NAIA tournament
“We’re all back, having a great time, it’s so great to see everybody, it’s like we never left and some of us haven’t seen each other for 30 years,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell led the Saints in scoring while being coached by the legendary Tom Kelley, who helped start the new women’s program after playing for the Fighting Saints men's team.
Another one of those hall of fame players includes Wendy Sears who, along with being the first 1,000-point scorer for Carroll also helped the Saints win the Frontier Conference during her first season in Helena and still holds multiple school records today.
“I can tell you the crowd is way bigger than we ever had the whole time I played here. It was a great experience for me,” she continued, “So many tall girls, I think I’m tall, but there’s a lot of tall women here."
Back then, the women used standard men’s basketballs, and there was no 3-point line. The height also seems to be one of the major differences the former Saints noticed during their celebratory weekend.
Lori Lorion (1975-1979) was the first woman inducted into the Carroll College hall of fame.
“We were stupid not to expect it, but I got lucky. I’d never make the team today,” London said. “We’re pretty happy about the small ball. Why didn’t anyone think of this (before)?”
Helena native Sue Moore has been working behind the scenes for many years in order to help facilitate the anniversary celebration.
“Thank you to everybody who showed up for Carroll College. This place has a magic about it, has a spirit about it, so thank you.” said Moore.
“Coach Sayers is such a gift to this college and this community. She cares about her players and she really knows the Xs and Os. In the meantime, she transfers from coach to mom in just a snap of a finger," added Moore.
Prior to her arrival at Carroll, Sayers spent 14 seasons at her alma mater Weber State. She is currently the 14th all-time leading scorer in Wildcats history with 1,009 career points.
Sayers has both played and coached against Montana State women's coach Tricia Binford, who was a three-time All-Big Sky Conference selection on some of the best teams in Boise State history.
“We’ve known each other a long time through playing and coaching. It was really special that (the Bobcats) were able to do this. When I asked her she didn’t hesitate at all to come be a part of our celebration,” stated Sayers.
Up next for the Saints is a trip to Arizona this weekend to take on Arizona Christian and Embry-Riddle before coming back home Nov. 16 versus Stephens College (Mo.)