HELENA — Expectations of the Saints women’s basketball team, outside of Carroll College, were middling entering the 2017-18 season.
The Saints were coming off a 18-13 season — a mark that many teams would be pleased with, but an 8-10 conference record that resulted in a fifth place finish and a first-round exit from the Frontier Conference playoffs left the Saints brooding.
Then, the outlook seemingly worsened.
A release from Carroll College in late September detailed two-time All-American center Cassidy Hashley would take a medical redshirt for the 2017-18 season. Her 14.4 points and 9.5 rebounds per game would not return this season.
No one could blame Frontier Conference coaches for picking the Saints to finish in a similar position this past season.
Yet, the Saints had other ideas.
Carroll College powered through the entire season — albeit with three starting caliber players sidelined at one point — to a 25-8 record, a regular season championship, a Frontier Conference tournament title and a victory at the NAIA tournament.
For these accomplishments, Saints coach Rachelle Sayers has been selected as the Independent Record’s Carroll College Women’s Coach of the Year.
“This year was certainly one of the most enjoyable season we have had,” Sayers said. “The wins of course were nice and winning the conference and conference tournament were extremely memorable, but there was just so much more to this season. This group of players were very special, from 1 to 15. They were great teammates, they worked extremely hard, they were very coachable and they truly cared about each other and I think in the end, those things are what made this season so special but also such a success. We had great leadership.”
In a dramatic, trying season, the Saints showed resolve. Hashley’s redshirt early on at least left the Saints with some time to prepare without her production. When Sara Chalich went down with a torn ACL in the preseason, the Saints seemed to be in for a trying season.
Couple this with the fact Sayers built the most challenging preseason schedule in the Frontier Conference and the outlook was grim.
The Saints started their nonconference slate on the road against the University of Montana and Utah, the former a narrow 55-48 loss before falling 70-46 to the Utes. A few days later, Carroll had a low-scoring affair against The College of Idaho, their first NAIA competition of the season, a 48-37 win.
Less than 24 hours later, Carroll’s magical season began.
The Saints knocked off Mountain West Champion Boise State, 62-61, in an exhibition game.
“I don't think anyone had expected us to come out like we did,” Sayers said.
Carroll carried that momentum to the conference season, where the Saints rolled to a 14-4 record and the first conference title.
Carroll hosted Lewis-Clark State College in the second round of the Frontier playoffs. The Saints went on to a 55-52 win, but not without seeing starting senior point guard Bailey Pasta tear her ACL. It appeared to be another depressing turn in the remarkable season.
Carroll powered through Rocky Mountain College, 46-42, to claim the postseason conference title anyway.
“They just kept fighting,” Sayers said. “They were so easy to coach and such a fun group to be around. I could coach them for another 20 years, I just didn't want this season to end.”
Carroll defeated William Penn 55-49 in the first round of the NAIA tournament before falling to Vanguard 63-55 in the second round.
The Saints placed three players on all-conference teams. Junior center Hannah Dean made first-team, while senior point guard Bailey Pasta and senior forward Michaela Dowdy were named to the second team.
Dean was also selected to the NAIA All-American second-team. Dowdy and Pasta were selected as honorable mentions.
“When we stopped worrying about the outcomes and the what-ifs and we focused on all the things that we had control of and all the things that we could do, things became easier and it was fun, and in the end, the results came,” Sayers said.