BILLINGS — Lilly Gopher left her mark on Box Elder High School.
Gopher was the State C girls basketball tournament MVP as a junior when she helped lead the Bears to their first state title in 20 years when the Bears ran away from Winnett-Grass Range in Butte. The Bears won their second consecutive State C title this March, taking down Roy-Winifred, 48-42, in Great Falls.
“All my years at Box Elder were great. Winning that state championship just made it a highlight, both times,” Gopher said. “It was pretty great because it was back to back and that hadn’t happened at all in school history, so that’s a big accomplishment, too.”
Emotion overtook the Box Elder faithful at the Butte Civic Center in 2018. Parents, coaches and players were filled with tears of joy. That scene will linger in Gopher’s mind for eternity, and she hopes it had a lasting effect on the younger generation, as well.
“Being a Native American, winning stuff like that is pretty big for us, because basketball plays a big part into a lot of children’s lives on the reservation,” Gopher said. “I feel like that made us role models more for little kids to inspire them to get that, as well.”
Gopher had her own role models growing up. Former coach Joel Rosette, who is moving to Washington, and her father taught her valuable lessons by linking basketball and life. That only furthered her drive and ambition to improve.
She then parlayed her success on the hardwood at Box Elder into a scholarship at Montana Western in Dillon. There, she’ll look to avoid the pitfalls of collegiate athletics that have plagued Native Americans over time, whether it be falling in with the wrong crowd or simply becoming homesick.
“I feel like I just need to make good friends, keep myself from being lonely, homesick. Surround myself with good, nice friends. My teammates are really nice people,” she said.
Gopher will be miles from the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation while she’s down in Dillon, but she knows that everyone back home has her back and is pulling for her to succeed. Gopher knows the younger generation is always watching and will be looking up to her, too.
“My reservation is always going to be there. My parents are always going to be there,” Gopher said. “They want me to go off and get my education, that’s what I’m going to do, and playing basketball, the thing that I love. It’s really exciting. I’m excited to play at the next level.”
She’ll have one final weekend of high school basketball before she becomes a Bulldog. Gopher and the Montana girls will take on Wyoming in the Montana-Wyoming All-Star basketball series this weekend.
The Montana girls earned an 84-66 win Friday at Alterowitz Gym on the campus of MSU Billings. Saturday’s game in Sheridan, Wyo. is set for 5:30 p.m.