HELENA — When Hannah Dean tweaked her ankle in the third quarter on Wednesday, it gave Carroll College women's basketball team fans cause for concern.
Dean was breaking out of a scoring slump.
But now had she broken?
Then exited the game.
The Saints were well in control of the Montana Tech Orediggers and won the game, but the bigger picture had come into question, at least momentarily.
Dean met with an athletic trainer, taped the ankle. And played on.
It’s what she’s done her whole career at Carroll.
Dean came back in and led the Saints with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting. In the third quarter against the Orediggers, Dean scored eight of Carroll's 12 points.
She gave the Saints big buckets and scored when they reinvigorated her team.
Rachelle Sayers seemed both relieved and exasperated by her junior center, calling the performance amazing. Sayers noted Dean’s increased efforts in the film room and in the gym as part of the reason she busted her shooting slump.
“That’s a kid who wants to win,” Sayers said. “Above and beyond her toughness, she really wants to win.”
More than her stat line, Sayers was proud of a stat that's not in the box score: deflections. The Saints started charting deflections as a way to understand who's disrupting opponents the most. On Wednesday, Dean had seven deflections.
Earlier this season, Dean broke her nose in the final few minutes against St. Xavier in Hawaii. At the time, it was unclear if Dean would require surgery or play in a mask.
She thought, for a day or two, that she would be fitted for a mask.
Once the next game rolled around, there was Dean, mask-free and sticking her nose right back into the thick of things.
“Our team feeds off that,” Sayers said. “They feed off her aggressive plays.”
Furthermore, Dean has nursed a bad back. Last season, each time Dean crashed to the court, it became a regular sight for her to gather herself for a few moments, biding the pain.
“It says a lot about her toughness,” Sayers said, “She’s had a bad back most of her career and battled through that.”
The Saints have won five of their last six games, doing so in large part because of steady play from underclassmen, quality leadership from upperclassmen and tough defense. Dean’s figured heavily into that, alongside senior point guard Bailey Pasta.
Sayers said Carroll will need those two to be reliable cogs for the stretch run. After Wednesday’s game, the Saints sit alone on top of the conference – though Rocky Mountain College has two games to play yet this week.
Toughness may determine who wins the Frontier Conference. Right now, the Saints have it.