GREAT FALLS — As Kayci Edwards puts on a microphone before an interview with the local television station, her head coach Brian Crosby looks over and calls out:
“Make sure you don’t get her shirt on camera!”
Edwards, a lifelong Montana State Bobats fan, is wearing an MSU Gold Rush shirt. She smiles.
“He always likes to get on my nerves,” laughed Edwards. “His son Cooper is even worse. I wear this shirt and he goes crazy, he just thinks it’s the end of the world. But, I mean, it’s funny, I gave Crosby crap when the Bobcats won.”
Cat-Griz rivalry aside, the coach-player relationship is a harmonious one. Great Falls CMR (6-6, 4-3) has experienced a pretty successful run the past two seasons. Last March the Rustlers earned a bye to the State AA girls basketball tournament and advanced to the semifinals. This season, despite some uneven play, they’re near the top of the Eastern AA standings with a deep, talented roster.
Crosby points to inserting defensive specialist Edwards in the starting lineup last year as instrumental to the team turnaround.
“She is a spark plug,” said the fifth-year CMR head coach. “She plays hard and she likes the challenge of guarding the best player from the other team, and we usually try to put her on that person and see what she can do. It really helps because it allows our other players to conserve some energy.”
With plenty of scorers like Addison Gardner, Kyra Willis and Akasia Denton on the roster, Edwards knows her role is energy and defense. And that suits her fine.
“I take a lot of pride in my defense,” she said. “It’s something I can control. On offense if your shots aren’t falling, that’s tough. But on defense you can get back, you can work hard and do what needs to be done. So I really do enjoy defense, it’s something I can take control of.”
And it’s no coincidence that Edwards excels at guarding star players. She grew up playing against one of the best offensive players in CMR history.
Kayci’s sister Taylor was an all-state selection for CMR before graduation in 2015. She’s now a junior at MSU Billings and a key contributor to the Yellowjackets basketball team.
“It’s a little sister combat,” said Kayci. “We would get so competitive. She was always an offensive player and for a while I thought I needed to be like my sister, but, in the scheme of things, defense is my spot. But it was great to have a sister to push me and I got to push her.”
Crosby coached both Edwards sisters and, though he sees differences in their games, there are similarities in their approach.
“(Kayci) understands the game like Taylor does,” he said. “They’re sort of the yin and the yang, so to speak. Taylor can create a basket at a moment’s notice, Kayci can take an offense out of what they’re doing. It’s a pretty nice thing to have as a coach on both sides.”
Athletes and leaders like the Edwards sisters don’t come around very often. Between the two sisters and their two half-brothers who Crosby coached at Highwood, he’s never been without a member of the Edwards family on his roster. That will change next year. But for now, both player and coach are trying to make the most of the ride.
“Great family, great kids, great leaders, great students, they want to be good at what they’re doing and they take it very seriously, and that’s fun,” Crosby said.
The Rustlers recently dropped a pair of road games to Billings West and Billings Senior, but they were able to compete with both AA powers. Edwards believes the Rustlers are still finding themselves and have their eyes on the postseason.
“In my perspective, we have a ton of talent on our team,” she said. “We’re just trying to put it together. It will come with time, and we have a lot of time. The only thing that matters is when we come to divisional and state. As long as we get it figured out by then, it’s all that matters to me.”