GREAT FALLS -- The Great Falls CMR girls basketball team technically ended last season on a win, but it was strange and bittersweet as COVID-19 cut the State AA tournament short a day early. CMR had just beaten Billings Skyview in a loser-out game and was prepping for a Saturday morning matchup with Missoula Sentinel when the news came down.
The Rustlers felt like they had a pretty good shot at that third-place trophy, and the lack of closure has been on their minds since March.
Head coach Brian Crosby said it motivated the girls for this year, but for the players, the immediate aftermath was tough.
"Normally we're back at the gym the next week, or we're all back at school around each other. But really, we were all at home for the next three months by ourselves not being around each other anymore," senior Chloe Pace said. "But I think our coach and our teammates really worked hard to make sure that we were still getting shots up at our house or at parks or whatever to keep the momentum going for next season."
Now the Rustlers will try to build on last season’s run where they earned the No. 2 seed out of the Eastern AA. But experienced seniors, like all-state forward Allie Olsen, have graduated. So to replicate that success, the formula might have to be a little different. CMR's rotations were down to just six players at times last year and Crosby hopes to expand that.
"I think the thing this year is we've got some depth, we've really worked hard on developing that," Crosby said. "Every coach says they want to play fast, and I think we do. And if we do play fast, that helps you because you can play more people."
Combining that depth with the return of players like all-state junior Lauren Lindseth, and this might just be Crosby’s most athletic group during his tenure.
"That's what's kind of fun about this group, so I think we'll get up and down," he said. "It’ll be exciting to watch. Hopefully the camera can keep up with us following back and forth on the NFHS Network. That’s the only thing I worry about."
CMR opens the season Jan. 7 against Billings Senior.