BILLINGS -- Look for some bumps along the way for all Frontier Conference basketball teams this season as they’re all sort of jammed into the same small boat of COVID-19 limitations.
Additionally for Rocky Mountain College’s women, the Battlin' Bears are trying to integrate a lot of new faces.
“We’re young, but then I also mixed in a few junior college veterans that I think can come in and help us right away,” head coach Wes Keller told MTN Sports.
'Right away’ is a week from Saturday when Rocky tips off its league schedule at home against MSU-Northern. It's a Dec. 5 date that can't seem to arrive fast enough. Like most Frontier players, some of the Bears have never looked so forward to the normally mundane task of practicing.
“Not getting to go into the gym this summer, it sucked," forward/post player Mackenzie Dethman said. "You can’t do anything. So, now when I get to go to practice it’s like, ‘Sweet, I get some gym time finally.'”
Albeit extremely limited gym time. Players would normally be inside the Fortin Center for skill and development training at different times throughout the day.
“With everything going on, our gym is being used for some classrooms for some of the bigger classes on campus," Keller explained. "We’ve had to adjust that part. Practice times went from two hours to an hour and a half just because of volleyball and both men’s and women’s basketball.”
“We can get in the gym for weights and for practice, an hour and a half," Dethman said. "It’s hard, there’s classes going on in here.”
“Honestly, no we’re not allowed to (come in on our own time)," said guard Kloie Thatcher. "It’s been hard trying to get to know our teammates and stuff. We’re a very new (team) this year, so that will definitely play a role in how the season goes. We only have a couple people that have actually played during the season, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens this year.”
Guard Izzy Spruit is Rocky’s only senior. And though Thatcher is a returning All-American guard for the Bears, she admits fall and summer offseasons were a little miserable -- physically and mentally. The gym rat was barely able to find gym space at home in Butte.
“Honestly, just being able to work out in the morning at the place in Butte really helped me, because at least I was actually doing something in the offseason that I could actually do," Thatcher said. "Getting into the gym, though, it was really hard. I think I was only able to get in a couple times and that was a struggle for me.”
The struggle now is quickly molding a roster full of fresh faces and skill sets, some who’ve never played a minute of college ball.
“I mean, it’s kind of like, you have to show them that Rocky Way," Dethman said. "You have to show them that this is a college-level sport and you have to play hard if you want to get some minutes in. I’m a post player and there are some girls out there that are way strong, so I have to show them if you’re going to play here, you have to learn how to push them around and learn to play at the college level. I think Kloie does the same, too. You have to help them and guide them, but at the same time you have to be encouraging and show them, 'OK, it's going to be fine. You just have to work together as a team.'”
Players and coaches across the Frontier Conference are dealing with a lot of the same adjustments, which may provide quite a bit of parity this season. But the bottom line is, they’ll be on the court.
While the same is true for most Montana colleges, one not far from Rocky is finding out otherwise. A week ago Friday administrators at MSU Billings opted out of allowing the Yellowjackets to play their conference season.
Rocky’s women tip off at home a week from Saturday against MSU-Northern. The men will follow in that doubleheader.