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Small-town advantage: MSU Billings women take college hoops to tiny Winifred

MSUB WBB Winifred.png
Posted at 6:00 AM, Nov 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-02 08:00:00-04

BILLINGS — Kevin Woodin knew a long time ago he was on to something.

"Oh gosh, he’s been talking about doing it forever,” said Montana State University Billings assistant women's basketball coach Alisha Breen.

After years of brainstorming, Woodin brought his plan to life this week. MSUB's head women's basketball coach drew way outside the lines to create a preseason game 168 miles north of Billings in the tiny town of Winifred.

"(I thought) what a great place this would be to play a game,” Woodin recalled to MTN Sports after multiple trips to the town for recruiting and other visits through the years.

Winifred also happens to be the hometown of Yellowjacket senior forward (junior eligibility) Dyauni Boyce.

"Last year he was like, ‘I’m going to do a game in Winifred,’" Boyce remembered. "And I was like, ‘Oh yeah … right … OK.’ When it actually came this year he was like, ‘We’re doing a game (there).’ I was like, 'No way. This is going to be so cool.'”

Before the team traveled, Boyce threw an impromptu pop quiz at her teammates, one by one. For example, what's her hometown's population? Can you point it out on a blank map of Montana? How many restaurants will you find?

That last answer is two — one of which, the Tavern, is where the Yellowjackets enjoyed a pregame meal.

Piling into a pair of vans, the team arrived in Winifred on Sunday to a community where eager young players were lucky to learn from some of the best. MSUB's women are picked by coaches to win the conference title this regular season and as part of their outreach hosted multiple free clinics Sunday in the school's new gymnasium.

“Oh, (the kids were) so excited and the best part about it was, we sat down in the middle (of the court) with their K-4th graders, and I asked a question right away," Breen recalled. "There wasn’t an answer, but there were about 20 hands that went up in the air.”

After each clinic, players autographed items for kids including free T-shirts given to campers.

Monday was game night against MSU-Northern, which the Jackets won 73-38. Boyce led the team with 16 points and 11 rebounds. But ultimately everybody seemed to win in a town that rolled out the red carpet.

"All of the businesses in Winifred, I think, helped sponsor the game," Woodin said with appreciation, also noting support from businesses in surrounding communities. "The town only has 173 people and that game had 400 to 500 in attendance.”

The Yellowjackets, ranked No. 15 nationally in this week's initial Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s Division II Poll, open the regular season Friday at 7 p.m. against Texas Women's University as a part of the D2CCA Tipoff Classic inside Alterowitz Gym. Ten teams — five of which are ranked nationally — will combine to play 15 games Friday through Sunday. The tournament's homepage with live scoring and stats can be seen here.

Naturally, in a bed and breakfast fashion, Boyce's family made room for all the Yellowjacket players to stay overnight with a pair of top-notch meals included.

“The food was incredible,” Woodin said in awe.

Senior forward Danielle Zahn was quick to agree.

“I mean, the food was amazing," she said. "Her dad and mom made us a four-course meal pretty much for dinner and breakfast.”

Boyce, meantime, got a kick out of ushering teammates around town and helping host her family's overnighter.

"We had a big sleepover," she said with a wide smile. "The upperclassmen got beds in the bedrooms and the underclassmen just had couch beds. So, everyone still had a bed.”