BILLINGS - How is it that one thin rope impacts a high school soccer team? For the Billings West girls, that rope is a reassuring model of trust and commitment. Hold the rope. Don't let your teammates down.
"I trust our team," forward Sophie Sievertsen told MTN Sports after a recent playoff win.
"I'm just trying to work hard and contribute to our team," added fellow forward Mary Speare.
"Hold the Rope" is an idea that West head coach Rob Zimmerman took note of while in charge at Great Falls CMR. Now, his Bears all secure it before every match.
The symbolism? If a teammate is falling, who's going to grip that rope and hold on so tightly it may burn their hands — maybe even make them bleed. But those committed enough to hold the rope pull each other out of tough and tense situations.
"Everybody chips in, everybody helps out," Zimmerman said.
The rope may be more effective for West this season than it's ever been. The Bears are not only undefeated, they've completely shut out 13 teams.
"Our defense is phenomenal, only letting two goals in all season," Sievertsen said, in awe.
Offensively, the Bears have rocked their opening two playoff opponents by a combined score of 16-0 within the last week. And take your pick on who scores.
"(We've had) 12 goal scorers, 11 players with assists (this season)," Zimmerman said. "It's a team effort all the way through."
It's also a team that remembers the sting of a similar run last year only to be stunned and eliminated in the state quarterfinals by Missoula Hellgate. As fate would have it, the Bears host Hellgate again in Tuesday's 6 p.m. semifinal at Amend Park.
"They have the sense that there's some unfinished business from last year, and we're just showing up every day going to work," said Zimmerman said of his players.
That quarterfinal finish a year ago was so tight it was decided only after overtime on penalty kicks. The Knights prevailed 4-3.
"Yeah, after that I just went in my back yard and just shot PKs over and over," recalled Speare.
The irony? Speare has yet to take a single penalty kick this season. But, odds are she'll be good for it if the moment calls.
And if the Bears do wind up in another PK shootout, an entire team will be there to hold the rope.