(Story by Casey Conlon, MTN Sports)
BILLINGS – Year three of the NAIA’s women’s basketball stay in Billings tipped off Wednesday morning at Rimrock Auto Arena at MetraPark.
The 32 best women’s teams in the country will fight for a national title over the next week, including Rocky Mountain College.
“It’s an exciting week,” forward Brooke Jones said with a smile. “You get to play other people you haven’t played all year, three times like we do in our conference. It’s just a really big opportunity for everyone on our team.”
Those “other people” are Shawnee State University of Ohio – also nicknamed the Bears. And while Rocky has never played them, Shawnee looks familiar.
“I think I would maybe compare them to Western, with all their dribble-drive kick-outs, three kind of play,” Jones said after scouting.
“They have three All-American guards back from last year,” RMC head coach Wes Keller said. “They made 266 threes on the season at a 34 percent clip. Just to compare that, Montana Western in our league, who shoots it really good, made 253.”
Like last year, Rocky earned its way into the field instead of relying on a host spot. And the Bears are again a No. 5 seed. But there is one key difference.
“The one thing I do like this year – we’re playing on Thursday versus Wednesday,” Keller said. “In the past couple years, we’ve played that game right after the Parade of Champions, and then it’s just like, ‘That thing’s over. Let’s go, go, go!'”
“Playing Wednesday the past two years was just so hectic – you have everything going on,” recalled Bears guard Alecia Chamberlin. “Playing Thursday will help us a little bit get a more comfortable feeling for the atmosphere we’re about to be in.”
Rocky does have one advantage over most teams. Many of the Bears have played before in the building.
“I mean,” said Jones, “I played in the Metra in high school, so it’s kind of like a second home, which is nice.”
Safe to say she’s comfortable on that floor?
“Yeah, I think there’s a majority of us that are. A lot of Montana kids, we’ve seen that gym, we’ve been in that gym.”
The Bears now feel like it’s time to win in that gym.