LUSTRE — Just getting to Lustre Christian High School is no small feat.
Located in the remote Northeastern part of Montana, it is only accessible by a dirt road with nothing but farm land to the North, South, East and West.
Even the players won’t sugarcoat the geography.
“It’s the middle of the middle of nowhere,” said Lustre Christian senior Elijah Lenihan.
But those players are the main attraction, for anyone willing to make the trip.
The Lustre Christian boys basketball team is undefeated and ranked No. 1 MTN Sports' Class C power rankings. For a team that has never advanced to the state tournament in school history, the Lions are treading in rare territory.
“It’s cool and all,” said senior forward Josiah Hambira. “But the way we handle it is to look at the walls of the gym. There’s no banners yet. Being No. 1 in the state doesn’t give us anything. It feels good in the moment but in the long run, it won’t give us any sense of accomplishment.”
And one look at the roster is all you need to learn that the Lions (13-0, 6-0) are a unique team.
As a private Christian boarding school, the student body at Lustre Christian includes several foreign nationals.
“Most of the families just google us,” said head coach and Lustre native Randy Reddig. “We’re on a couple of boarding school websites. It usually comes down to money and we’re one of the more least expensive ones on the list.”
There are players from the Caribbean, Taiwan and Cameroon suiting up for Lustre Christian this year. The starting lineup consists of locals Clay Reddig, Cayden Klatt and Lenihan alongside Jasiah Hambira who transferred from Washington state in 2020 and Braden Ewing, a senior from Turks and Caicos Islands.
Coaches and players at Lustre often hear off-hand remarks about recruiting players, but that’s not the case. Several members of the roster, like Ewing, never picked up a basketball until they stepped foot on campus.
“We kind of just take what God gives us and develop them the best we can,” Reddig said.
And there’s certainly some culture shock for the overseas arrivals.
“They said they never got snow like this in a couple of years,” laughed junior Terran Joseph from the Bahamas. “So why when I come here they get all the snow and sub-zero temps.”
Despite the undefeated season, the Lions are still just scratching the surface. Braden Ewing and his brother Byron brought size and raw athleticism to the Lions and wow the crowds with high flying dunks. But they are still learning the intricacies of the game.
“I was shellshocked when I first came here,” Braden said. “It took a while to get used to. Still getting used to some things now but I’ve got the hang of it for the most part.”
There are language and culture barriers that are challenging for coaches to overcome, but the community goes out of its way to make the transition as easy as possible.
“Everyone around here is integrated in the school,” Lenihan said. “It’s pretty easy because everyone helps out in some way.”
“The people here are a lot different than back home,” Joseph said. “They’re outgoing when it comes to making you feel like home. People knew my name the second I stepped on campus and made sure we were doing alright.”
The Lions are 13-0 with wins over traditional Class C powers like Scobey and Fairview. Reddig himself considers defending champion Manhattan Christian the No. 1 team in the state when healthy, but is excited to see how his team stacks up against the rest of the state when the postseason begins.
“Right now things are clicking pretty well and hopefully we keep building on it,” Reddig said. “We have a few district banners and a few third place finishes at divisionals. State is a door we haven’t been able to break down yet.”
A team with different stories and different backgrounds, sharing one goal.
“All of us Lustre kids have dreamed of going to state for basketball,” Lenihan said. “Our school has never been there. So it would be really cool.”
“We have bigger goals and bigger obstacles to climb,” he said. “Being No. 1 is nice but it’s just the little push of encouragement as we go into the end run.”
Not bad for a team in the middle of nowhere.