Rustlers raise rug at State AA


The CMR boys brought home the state basketball title in March 2018.

Quincy Schmechel

On March 8, both boys and girls basketball headed to Billings for the AA State Tournament.

After an exhausting weekend culminating in the championship on March 10, the Rustler boys came away with a golden state title and a rug for the Thunderdome. Despite the Lady Rustlers’ fighting efforts, both their Thursday and Friday games resulted in emotional losses against Billings West and Helena High School.

The tournament started off as the boys faced off against the Glacier Wolf Pack on Thursday in an electric game culminating in a victory for the Rustlers of 51-49 after a nail biting overtime.

Junior Bryce Depping shined at the freethrow line throughout the game.

“The first game was intense,” Depping said. “We got down by, like, 15. But we came back. We cut it to 5. Then they got up again, then we came back, cut them down, and tied it,” he recalled.

Depping says that the first game of state had its own pressures — a giant arena, more spectators than the Thunderdome could ever hold, and far higher stakes.

“After we tied it, we won,” Depping recounted. “But I think that’s what made it so nerve-wracking for the fans; we were the one seed and they were the four seed.”

Depping said that in tight situations like the overtime against Glacier, it’s important to keep a level head. He said that despite the intensity he experienced at state, he was confident in the Rustlers’ victory after overcoming a 15 point deficit.

“I was more nervous when we were down by 15,” he said. “But when we cut it, you kind of knew we’d come back and win.”

Depping notes that a lot of other teams would have struggled to make the comeback, but the Rustlers’ “teamwork and unselfishness” set them apart.

“Being able to hang a rug was an amazing feeling because it will always be there as a reminder of getting to play, to see each other every day, and [of] the friendship we all have.””

— Garrison Rothwell

Senior Sam Vining also felt that the Rustlers’ identity as a team carried them through the tournament.

“Playing at State was really unfamiliar,” he said. “Since none of us had ever made it, in the beginning of the first game we were kind of timid and nervous.”

Vining said that the unfamiliarity and nerves the team encountered didn’t hold them down long, though.

“Once we got a feel for what it was like to play at State, we became more confident and we rode that confidence throughout the tournament,” he said.

That confidence shone as the Rustlers faced the third crosstown clash of the season on Friday, when they met the Bison in the semifinals at the Metra.

“I thought it went good for us,” Depping recounted casually. “We got the ball moving right away and whooped them pretty bad.”

Depping said that the Rustlers learned from the tight game the night before.

“We came out like we were supposed to,” he said. “We didn’t play slow like we did the first game.”

Senior Garrison Rothwell said that the Glacier game also helped him find his footing in the tournament, and spurred him to overcome his nerves as he headed into the semifinals against Great Falls High.

“I was a little nervous, knowing that they were a good team,” Rothwell said, noting the Bison’s 2nd rank in the state and 3rd place at divisionals. As the Rustlers rode their momentum to cruise past the Bison, winning 62-38, Rothwell said the victory was about more than advancing in the bracket.

“The main part of the game against [Great Falls High] was not only to go to the championship, but it also proved who was the better team,” Rothwell said. “They had won one and we had won one, so it was the tie-breaker. There was pressure on the whole team, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”

Vining agrees that there were few pressures the Rustlers couldn’t handle on the court.

“As individuals, we were all capable shooters and defenders,” he said. “What set us apart was how well we played together and how smart we played.”
Rothwell agreed.

“As individuals, I think our overall want for winning State is what helped each of us to play as a team rather than someone playing for themself,” Rothwell said.

“It’s all about our unselfishness, it’s how good of a team we were,” said Bryce Depping about the winning mentality that carried the Rustlers into the championship against Bozeman. “We knew our roles on the team, and we knew what we had to do.”

Depping recounted going into the championship game. He said the boys were ready to play after their hefty victory against the Bison, and they started off the same way: quick, confident, and ready to control the pace of the game as they moved the ball around the court.

“We came out right away,” he said. “They scored five quick ones, and then we came back and started playing fast the whole game. From there, it was a clearcut win.”

Rothwell also noted the importance of the Rustlers’ starting momentum.

“By the championship game, we all knew how we had to start off,” he said. “Beating Bozeman three times before really helped with the overall [mentality] of going into the championship game.”

As the buzzer rang and the scoreboard displayed the Rustlers’ victory of 81-69 over the Hawks, there was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, pride, and excitement in the arena; but for those on the court, it went farther than another simple win or even a state title.

“As a team, we had all played together for a long time,” Rothwell explained. “Most of us were on a travel team together through elementary and middle school.

“Being able to hang a rug was an amazing feeling because it will always be there as a reminder of getting to play, to see each other every day, and [of] the friendship we all have.”

“It was the best feeling ever to hang a rug with some of your best friends,” Vining agreed. He also expressed that the victory was made sweeter due to the obstacles the Rustlers overcame as they found their identity as a team.

Rothwell concluded, saying, “The feeling was amazing, being able to win. But not only to win; to win with all my friends and showing how hard we worked.”