HAMILTON — It can be a tall ask to have freshmen step onto the varsity team in basketball at any classification in Montana, let alone as starters from the very beginning.
But that's exactly what Hamilton High School did with Layne Kearns and Taryn Searle as the duo have this year's Broncs basketball team off to a strong start looking toward the postseason, but now as seniors, both have had unique journeys in their basketball careers.
Both are vets of the game thanks to their experience on the basketball court. But once thrown into the fire as freshmen, it was an eye-opening experience, as the young duo had to step up as starters right away.
"Getting thrown in, it was really just getting to know the older girls and luckily those girls kind of took us under their wing and accepted us and just taught us everything there was," Kearns said.
And since, the two have run with it.
That experience as starting freshmen have built them into leaders for the Broncs.
"We were kind of put in a position where we had to be a leader and be a starter so it's definitely had to help me grow and become a better leader, so these three years have been easier for me to do that role," Searle said.
And it's been different paths for each player.
Searle was dealt early adversity with a torn ACL just a few games into her sophomore year, and has bounced back ever since.
Kearns, meanwhile, joined the 1,000-point club earlier this season, and is signed to play basketball at NCAA Division II Seattle Pacific after she graduates.
As seniors this season, the pair have Hamilton poised for another shot at state after they've helped the Broncs get to the Class A tournament the last three years, with sights on winning a game and making a run for a program that has given so much to them as well.
Hamilton has been an early exit at state each year, and this year's team is looking to change that.
"And they're hungry, they've been at state every year, but they haven't walked away with a win at the state tournament so that's their goal," Hamilton coach Boone Nelson said. "They want to win that first game Thursday night at state if we can get there. Not putting divisionals past ourselves yet, there's some serious competition out west, that's their goal to advance out of the divisional tournament, get to state and be competitive and win a couple of games so they bring it to practice every day, they never take a day off and they're hungry."
Kearns, Searle and Lexi Brenneman make up this year's seniors for the Broncs, who currently sit at 10-5 overall heading into the final week of the regular season.
"I would just say that we have the best people here," Searle said. "I love my coaches and I love the people that I'm around and I wouldn't trade these girls for anything, and it's just been so nice to be around such a good environment of people who love sports but also are just good people. It's definitely very special especially since it was my dream from a little kid to just be out here and play and have fun."
And through every growing pain and the highs and lows, they've had each other to lean on.
"It was super nice, honestly, just having someone at the same level and just understand what you're going through and as a leader perspective, just deflecting to her like seeing what the right thing we should do or any problems we can just brainstorm together," Kearns said. "It's nice not going through it alone."