Things seem different with the Billings Central girls basketball program.
Gone is a decorated class headlined by current Boise State freshman Mya Hansen, leaving a big void on the floor and in the locker room.
“You don't replace the kids you lose. You invest in them helping create a culture and a foundation, and they did a very good job of that," Billings Central head coach Jetton Ailes said. "We stress 'leave it better than you found it,' and they certainly did that. They left their legacy and it's our job to build on that. That's one of the challenges with this group. You got left a pretty good foundation, what can you do to continue to build on that?"
There are a handful of girls that played meaningful minutes during the Rams' recent deep postseason runs, so what’s their biggest takeaway in their time with a lauded group?
“Everyone worked as hard as they could, and they worked hard for us in games and we worked hard for them. We just found that that was more rewarding than anything else. We didn't care who was the leading scorer, we just wanted to bust our butts for everyone else," Rams senior Jessa Larson said.
“I think composure is a big one. If we can keep that line pretty level — don't get too high, don't get too low. And to compete. When you come every day to practice — this is where it's supposed to be hard. This is our homework, then we've got to go pass a test on a Thursday or a Friday."
It doesn’t look like Central’s missed a beat, as the Rams are No. 1 in the first MontanaSports.com girls basketball power rankings of the year after victories over defending state champion Havre, Hardin and Miles City. Next Friday looms a date with rival and third-ranked Laurel at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark in Billings.
“Laurel is very good. They've got some great athletes. You better lace up your track shoes if you want to compete with them," Ailes said. "We've got to do a good job of not getting caught up in the chaos a little bit and execute in the half. You can play a track meet all you want, but at the end of the day you've got to execute in the half court when it comes down to it."
The Rams, winners of seven Class A titles and a finalist in each of the past three seasons, can’t look too far ahead, though, as they get Livingston and Lockwood this weekend.