HELENA — All the Carroll College women’s basketball team has done this season is prove themselves.
Frontier Conference coaches ranked Carroll as the No. 4 team in the preseason poll. All the Saints have done since then is prove those coaches wrong.
The gaudy preseason schedule, the upsets of top-10 teams and the steady improvement of young Saints have powered Carroll to the top of the Frontier Conference with 12 games to go.
With that has come the highest national ranking of any Frontier team as the Saints are No. 10 in the country now.
Don’t expect that ranking to change that Carroll's approach, though. There’s no added pressure being recognized as the top team in the Frontier.
“We’ve talked all year with our players about the goals we have,” Saints coach Rachelle Sayers said. “None of them revolve around wins or losses or rankings.”
The ranking, in the Saints’ view, is a byproduct of an inward focus.
“It’s all about our effort and our energy,” Sayers said. “Our ability to make the players around us better. These guys are committed to that. I think if we keep our focus on that, the things we have control of, the rankings don’t really matter to us right now.”
It makes Thursday’s matchup with Montana Western a role reversal. In the first matchup, Carroll was the upstart, looking to gain footing in a difficult Frontier Conference.
Then-ranked No. 24, the Saints hosted the then-ranked No. 10 Western Bulldogs and made quick work of their rival.
Carroll won 82-45 on Jan. 4. It jump-started a 4-0 foray back into Frontier Conference play for the Saints.
Carroll expects Western to be eager for redemption.
“They obviously didn’t have their best game here in Helena,” Sayers said. “We’re expecting a completely different team and game than what we saw earlier.”
Western fell out of the rankings entirely, meaning a win in Dillon over Carroll could very well correct their recent course.
The Bulldogs have the tools to be a strong team and the Saints are steadying themselves for another shooting display from point guard Brianna King, who went cold against the Saints in their first meeting. King is second in the Frontier in scoring at 17 points per game.
“We’re ready for that game," King told 406mtsports this week. "We’ve got a lot to prove.”
The Bulldogs broke up a three-game losing streak by defeating Montana State-Northern on Jan. 13. Whether the Bulldogs can translate that into something against Carroll, having won its last six consecutive games, remains to be seen.
“We have to be able to match their physical play,” Sayers said. “They’re going to come after us. They’re going to be upset about the game that came before.”
Junior forward Hannah Dean leads the Saints in every major statistical category.
The Saints will lean on their No. 6-ranked defense and stellar rebounding (No. 5 in NAIA) to combat the physical nature of the Bulldogs.