GREAT FALLS — For the first time this spring, the Great Falls CMR softball team took the field on Friday, and just like every other team in the state, the chance to be outside feels great for the Rustlers.
Moving from indoor practices to the diamond gives new head coach Alex Lowry a chance to take stock of the team that she was supposed to inherit when she took the job prior to last season.
"Having one good week of tryouts and then getting shut down was devastating for us," Lowry said. "I felt bad for our seniors and for everybody just losing a year. It's hard. But these girls, it makes them that much more motivated to get back at it this year and compete."
"This first week of practice, everyone's competitive, high energy. They're focused in on what we need to do, we all have the same common goal," she continued. "And it's been good to see everybody coming in and compete every day this week."
Lowry, herself a former star at CMR and University of Providence (then University of Great Falls), was an assistant in the program for two years. That familiarity and experience isn’t lost on these players.
"Having her as an assistant coach for so many years, we built this previous friendship," senior Amara Stalsberg said. "She really relates a lot of things to her college experience playing for the Argos, and I think that's nice just because she can give us examples of times she's had where she's had to do something and it's come in handy."
CMR’s program has a rich history with nine state championships, but the last one came in 2017. To get back to that level, the Rustlers are focused on the offensive output.
"We've worked a ton on hitting in the offseason, we work a lot on our hitting philosophy. That kind of came from Tyler Graham and Lindsey Gustafson," Lowry said. "So we focus on that and all the mechanics that go in and with that I'm hoping we're going to be a good hitting team."
Graham is a CMR graduate who played college baseball at Oregon State, where he won a national championship in 2006. He then spent nine years as professional player with a handful of appearances in the major leagues in 2012 for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Gustafon, Graham's sister, was the head coach at CMR before preceding Lowry. She led the Rustlers to four state titles as a player and three as a coach.
Coach Lowry said the lost season has motivated these girls, but the players also like the prospect of getting CMR back to championship-level play.
"It's nice to look up at our rugs and see where we could be and it's like an inspiration to get there," Stalsberg said. "I think we're all really motivated. And we all have this selflessness to us. I think that really is important when going to state."
CMR opens the season April 6 at home against Helena High and Helena Capital.