HELENA — July, 1, 2011 was the beginning of an era for Carroll College women's basketball: the Rachelle Sayers era.
Sayers, an Absarokee native and Weber State basketball player in the 1990s, returned to the Treasure State to take over the Fighting Saints program after a 14-year stint as an assistant for Weber State. As for what's kept Sayers at the helm of the Fighting Saints for officially a decade? People in Helena care about women's basketball.
"I think the things that frustrated me the most at the level I was at, are the things that I enjoy the most about being here. I enjoy the relationships with players. I enjoy the fact that Carroll women's basketball matters here at Carroll. It matters to our administration, it matters to our college, it matters to our community," said Sayers. "It's not something that that we have to fight for every day to bring value to what what these ladies are doing every day."
In Sayers' decade-long tenure, countless names have come through the program. Frontier Conference regular season titles, tournament titles and NAIA national tournament appearances dot her resumé. But every year, the want to be a better coach and better mentor is there. Sayers said failure is obviously inevitable in sport and when it occurs, the first place she looks to see where the problem lies is in the mirror.
"Every day you have to go in and fight and everyday you have to go in there and improve yourself. And so I think that's how I am as a coach. I feel like every day it's on me to make sure we're getting better. If we fall short, I take that personally. I take that in. 'Okay, I didn't prepare my kids for this. I didn't prepare them so that they were able to respond to these situations or, you know, we didn't condition enough,'" said Sayers. "I think when you're a player and you see your coach taking those responsibilities, you want to work hard and you want to make those adjustments as well."
Sayers noted when she originally interviewed for the job over a decade ago, she made it clear that she wanted to bring home national titles and that goal still holds true today. With Carroll College football's excellence on the national stage during Mike Van Diest's tenure being well documented all over Carroll College's campus, Sayers said she hopes to see some more national championship banners hanging in the near future, but this time with her namesake at the forefront.
“It can be done. It has been done here. And so I will feel, as a coach, that I have not accomplished what I set out to accomplish here, if we don't do that," said Sayers seriously before cracking a sly smile. "I'm a little bit competitive and greedy. I think if we do do it, then I'm not gonna want to leave because I'm gonna want to do it again."
With the Fighting Saints women heading into the 11th installment in the Rachelle Sayers saga, it brings with it some key pieces to the team's success. With COVID-19 restructuring eligibilty for some players, seniors Christine Denny, Dani Wagner, Jaidyn Lyman, and Emma Madsen will all return for another season of basketball in hopes of tracking down that national championship. When discussing the possibility of their returns, Sayers was straight with them and said it needs to be worth it for them. For each of them, it is despite Sayers' sometimes tough nature.
"I think especially for our female athletes, when I say it has to be worth it -- it has to be worth it -- because of the time investment. I always say in recruiting, 'I'm not a cupcake to play for.' I know that and I'm okay with that," said Sayers. "They've won three conference titles, they've won three tournament titles, they've gotten to a national tournament every year that they've been here. So to come back for the same thing, to me isn't worth it, when they can be starting their careers and start a new chapter in their life. They have so much to look forward to in that part of their their lives. And they all said 'Hey, we're coming back for something special.' I have a great relationship with those with those seniors we've been through a lot. They're a huge part of our program."
As for the Sayers' future? There's no telling what the next 10 years will bring to the Carroll College women's basketball program, but for right now, Sayers said she's all in.
"I think the most important thing, and I tell our players the same thing, the most important thing is that you're happy with who you are and where you are. And that wherever you plant your feet, that's where you're at. I'm not the type of coach that's always looking for the next opportunity or the next job or what's available or what's out there. I feel like I'm a coach that expects the same of myself as I do on my players. If I expect my players to be 100% in and committed, then that's where I'm going to be too."