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New coach Jeff Graham, Montana Tech women ready to open Frontier Conference play against Rocky

Posted at 3:52 PM, Nov 30, 2022

BUTTE — Steve Keller, the head men's basketball coach at the University of Providence, let Jeff Graham know what kind of workload he was in store for after he was hired as Montana Tech's next head women's basketball coach in August.

"Keller told me 'you're gonna be busier than you've ever been in your life, you're not gonna know what you did that day,'" Graham said.

Keller's words proved accurate, and Graham couldn't be happier about it.

"He was right, but it's fun, I love going to work everyday," Graham said. "The staff here is awesome."

The former Belt girls basketball coach — who earned six Class C titles during his 15-year tenure with the Huskies — recognizes the tall task that'll await the Orediggers (2-4 overall) as they get set to open Frontier Conference play on Thursday at home against defending league champion Rocky Mountain College. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m.

The Battlin' Bears (4-3) are coming off a season that saw them advance to the quarterfinals of the NAIA national tournament. Though they've since graduated First Team All-American guard N'Dea Flye, Graham still knows that Wes Keller's squads are always formidable.

"You got (Butte Central product) Kloie Thatcher coming home and it seems like she always plays well here," Graham said. "We're gradually putting in some stuff on Rocky and scouting them. But we're just gonna worry about what we can control. We're excited to get the atmosphere going here. It's gonna be a great challenge, a good test."

Through six preseason games, three Tech players are averaging 10 points or better per game: Junior Tavia Rooney (11.5 ppg), senior Dani Urick (10.5) and redshirt freshman Aubrie Rademacher (10.0).

Urick, a Belt product who won two state titles alongside Graham, was unsure if she'd play her final year at Tech but eventually decided to suit up. Graham is glad she did and said Urick has played a big part in helping him adjust to the college game.

"She's such a calm leader, she's been here for five years," Graham said. "She knows the system, she knows the kids. It's just fun to have her back, I'm glad she's playing one more year."

Graham will have another source of inspiration as his team gets set to jump into the grind of the regular season — watching Belt's football team, which he was the head coach of for 15 years through the 2021 season, finally break through and capture the 8-Man championship a few weeks ago.

"These kids, open field twice a week, weight room dang near every day of the summer," Graham said of the Huskies' roster this season. "They've worked for this and have been close the last couple of years, losing to good teams like Flint Creek and Thompson Falls, the eventual champions. It was great, I was so happy for them. They deserved it."

Graham was a big part of making the name Belt synonymous with winning. Now four months into his first college head coaching job, he's looking to begin doing the same thing with the Orediggers.

But he knows it'll be a process.

"I'm excited, the girls have been great," Graham said. "So hopefully, we can continue to improve."