GREAT FALLS — The Great Falls CMR Rustlers are just a week away from the start of their season as the Class AA defending volleyball state champions, and this year they’re just as hungry to repeat as they were to win it the first time around.
Immediately after winning their first state title since 2000, the returning Rustlers didn’t waste time in pestering head coach Patrick Hiller to get back in the gym.
“Every day I got a text from them trying to get into the gym,” Hiller laughed.
“We always have open gyms or we're always in the gym,” senior outside hitter Ella Cochran explained. “We're still doing two-a-days after we already did tryouts so I guess that just shows a little bit about our program.”
After a perfect undefeated season going 31-0, the Rustlers know that they are the team with the biggest target on their back and no one more than Billings West, who the Rustlers gave their only five losses too in the season, would like to dethrone the team that beat them twice in the state tournament.
“Nobody cares that we were 31-0 now,” Hiller said. “It was cool, but I don't think Billings West cares and so I imagine they just want to beat us.”
This year they’ll be without last year’s Montana Gatorade Player of the Year in setter Tennisen Hiller who signed late with the Griz. They’ll also be without their former four-time all-state outside hitter Lauren Lindseth, now with the Cats. However, if you asked the returning seniors, though they miss their friends and teammates that graduated, they’re excited to forge their own path of Rustler volleyball with the group they have.
“We’re more together and work more as a team instead of having always those two, which were a big part,” senior and first-team all-state selection Lexi Thornton explained.
Some of the pieces returning that have already been recognized as some of the best in the state include all-state and all-conference selections like Cochran, Thornton, Avarey Stuff and Norah Allen, all of which are ready to step into those leadership roles helping build a solid roster from top to bottom.
“If one part of our team goes, we have someone else that can come in and step in and play the part,” Cochran said.
The program saw near 100 kids come tryout this season with only 48-52 spots to give out showing just how far along this program has come during Hiller’s time at the helm. Now, with higher levels of talent and expectations, for CMR, it’s about winning.
“The girls know they have to fight for their position,” Hiller said. “Nothing is given to them. They have to earn everything. The culture is just shifted from the standpoint of that it is about winning.”
The Rustlers start out their 2022 campaign Aug. 27 against Kalispell Glacier on the road.