Carson Cunningham, in his fifth year leading the Carroll College men's basketball team, has the Saints out to the best start in program history at 14-0 and ranked No. 2 in NAIA as they begin Frontier Conference play. Is this the season they can win the national title? Here’s a look back at another nine quality starts in the program's 105-year history, and where they led.
No. 2 2005-06 started 13-1
The 2005-06 Saints, coached by Gary Turcott, started the season 13-1 and had high expectations going into the year after making it to the NAIA semifinals a season prior. This crew featuring starters Jeff Hays, Travis Williams, Kurt Paulson, Ross Gustafson and Sinan Guler holds school record for wins after finishing the season 30-4 and exiting in the NAIA tournament quarterfinals.
No. 3 1941-42 started 12-2
Under Ed Simonich, who was in his third year as coach, the 1941-42 Saints started 12-2 on their way to a Montana Collegiate Conference title. Their first loss of season came in the fourth game, a tilt against Billings Polytechnic where they fell 44-43 in overtime. After that Carroll ripped off nine wins in a row and won the MCC title. Dave Secor of Ironwood, Missouri, led the conference in scoring with a 13.6 point per game average.
No. 4 1953-54 started 12-2
Father Raymond Hunthausen, in his first year as coach, got the squad started off right. The Saints lost their first game of the season to Ricks (Idaho) 87-75 and then avenged the loss, defeating Ricks 70-67 in the next outing. Carroll put together another five-game winning streak before suffering another loss to Ricks, 74-60. Carroll put together another 12-game winning streak before falling to the University of Montana Frosh team, 76-70. After an undefeated run through the Montana Collegiate Conference, the Saints advanced to the NAIA District Tournament in Bozeman. There, the Saints defeated Ricks College 83-82 to advance to the title game against the Montana State College Bobcats. The Bobcats prevailed 81-71, and Carroll finished the year 22-4. The Saints featured three All-MCC players that season with Walt Romasko, Hunter and Larry Anderson and Joe Pat Sullivan, who received an honorable mention selection. A few noteworthy occurrences from the season included Romasko setting the school record at 39 points in a game (now held by Jack Sanders, who scored 48 in 1971 against Great Falls).
No. 5 1993-94 started 11-3
This start didn't lead to a big finish. The Saints concluded the season with a 21-11 overall record. They ended up second in the conference regular season at 10-6. Then they placed third at Frontier Conference tournament.
No. 6 2004-05 started 11-3
Gary Turcott’s 2004-05 team took the Saints to the NAIA semifinals, the deepest run in program history. The team posted a 28-7 record, including 12-2 mark in conference. The Saints opened the NAIA tournament with a victory over Concordia University 85-72, then a close battle against Oklahoma City University, followed by a quarterfinals win against Saint Xavier 67-57. The Saints finally met their superior, falling 73-60 to John Brown. Led by former Helena High forward Andy Brown, Kurt Paulson, Turkish sensation Sinan Guler and Travis Williams. Brown won the Frontier Conference MVP, while he, Hays and Guler were named first-team selections.
No. 7 2001-02 started 11-3
The 2001-02 team went 26-8 overall under Gary Turcott, and made the NAIA tournament, but went 0-2 there, after winning the Frontier Conference tournament. The team was led by Kirk Stiles (eight all-time leading scorer), Shane Gamdrat (all-time assist leader) and Gary Lynch (10th all-time leading scorer), who were all named first-team all-conference.
No. 8 2014-15 started 11-3
Carson Cunningham’s second year with the team allowed him to bring in his own recruits and begin implementing his approach to building a program. The Saints doubled their win total from nine wins in 2013-14 to 18 wins in 2014-15. Carroll went 7-7 in conference and closed the season with a 66-60 loss to Montana-State Northern in the Frontier Conference tournament. Zach Taylor was named an NAIA All-American honorable mention. Taylor earned first team all-conference recognition and was joined by Oliver Carr, who garnered second team honors as well as the freshman of the year award.
No. 9 2015-16 started 11-3
Cunningham’s third year at Carroll College saw the Saints make an NAIA Tournament unlike anything the Saints had seen over the past 10 years. The Saints went 23-10 with a 13-5 Frontier Conference record. Led by a core of Zach Taylor, Ryan Imhoff, Match Burnham, Oliver Carr, Matt Wyman and Lorel Johnson, (many of which are still major contributors on this season’s team) fell short in the Frontier Conference tournament title game to Lewis-Clark State 79-70. Enter the NAIA tournament as an upstart squad, the Saints turned some heads. Carroll knocked off a top-20 opponent to open the tournament by knocking off Peru State (Kansas) 99-82. The Saints’ followed that up with a 66-60 win over the No. 2 overall seed LSU-Alexandria. Carroll fizzled out in the quarterfinals when they lost to Campbellsville 83-67. Taylor was named an NAIA All-American and Ryan Imhoff garnered an honorable mention. Imhoff and Taylor were named first-team all-conference. Burnham received second-team honors as well as being named freshman of the year.
No. 10 2016-17 started 11-3
In Carson Cunningham’s fourth year at the helm, the Saints started off 11-3 once again. Powered by Frontier Conference Player of the Year and second all-time leading scorer in Saints history Zach Taylor, Carroll claimed the Frontier Conference regular season and tournament title. Carroll claimed a No. 1-seed entering the tournament in Kansas City, claiming a first round win over Mount Mercy (Iowa) 82-69. Then, the Saints took down SAGU (Texas) 87-80 in overtime behind a nearly perfect free-throw shooting effort. In a nail-biter in the quarterfinals, the Saints lost after Ryan Imhoff’s game-tying shot missed the mark against Life (Georgia). Taylor was named a first-team NAIA All-American and Imhoff received third-team honors. It was the best mark of the Cunningham era and the second most wins in program history. Imhoff was named third team NAIA All-American. Taylor and Imhoff were named all-Frontier first-teamers. Burnham and Matt Wyman, both sophomores, were honorable mention all-conference.
Honorable mention: Carroll College’s sports information office did not have detailed records of 2000-01 and 2002-03 teams, and how they seasons went. The 2000-01 team finished 26-8 reached the NAIA tournament, won the conference tourney and was second in the regular season. The 2002-03 team was 12-3 at one point, finished 27-8, was second in the regular season and conference tournament, and qualified for nationals.