BILLINGS — There’s been a longtime principle surrounding Laurel Locomotive basketball.
“Growing up in Laurel, you’re going to play defense or you’re not going to play," said senior forward Colter Bales.
So when the school was looking for its third head boys coach in three years last offseason, Tony Trudnowski was an easy choice.
“(I like) hustle plays, getting to loose balls. I’m big on rebounds," said Trudnowski. "One of the things that's kind of different about me, I care more about how hard you go after your goal than if you achieve it.”
Because Laurel has gone so hard this season, the Locomotives have already achieved goal No. 1.
“When I first got the job in the summer and first started meeting the kids, I asked them what their individual goals were and to make it to state was actually the No. 1," Trudnowski said.
Of course, that wasn’t enough for some.
"I think, actually, our goal was to win state," Bales answered with a smile.
They’ll have that chance this week, coming into the State A tournament in Great Falls with the highest seed this senior class ever has: No. 2 in the East after losing a 47-46 heartbreaker in the Eastern A championship to rival Billings Central.
After longtime coach Pat Hansen stepped down after the 2018-19 season, and Laurel's school board chose not to retain Paul Barta after the 2019-20 year, it seems like the third time has been the charm.
“They all have their ups and downs, but I think Coach Trudnowski has been the best one, he’s been my favorite," Bales said. "His game plan, approach, the way he treats us, I just like every aspect of the way he coaches.”
“It’s been amazing," echoed senior guard Wylee Schnetter. "We’ve had a couple ups and downs, but he knows how to push us through it, keep us going, and in our big wins he’s been the No. 1 man.”
Trudnowski often seems like one of the boys, no stranger to showing some emotion.
“All of our coaches are like that, and it helps us a lot," said Schnetter. "If we have a team who goes on a little bit of a run, he’s still there, still excited, still getting us going. It helps push us.”
“Just that connection between the players and the coach, it just makes us that much better," said Bales.
Now we’ll see if it has made them the best. Laurel will plan Ronan in the opening game of the State A tournament Wednesday at 1:00 p.m.