TWIN BRIDGES — RaeAnne Bendon, who has wanted nothing more than to play college basketball for most of her life, can still recall a divisional championship game during her freshmen season where she was charged with guarding Harrison-Willow Creek’s All-State junior forward Britt Cooper, now a sophomore with Montana Western’s women’s basketball team.
Fast forward to Bendon’s senior year and second straight State Tournament appearance with Twin Bridges — which coincided with Cooper and the Bulldogs piecing together their most successful season in program history — and she and her family were anxiously wondering if her lifelong aspiration of playing college ball would ever be fulfilled.
Perhaps no one in the Bendon household was more apprehensive then her mother, Tanya.
“It was stressful,” Tanya said. “We weren’t sure if it was going to happen.”
Added RaeAnne: “It’s something that my mom and brothers and I have stressed out about for a long time.”
So, when Western head coach Lindsay Woolley summoned RaeAnne to his office about two weeks ago, Tanya was left, “sitting at home on pins and needles.”
And when RaeAnne returned home, strolled through the door and tossed a Montana Western t-shirt to her to signify both a dream realized and an arduous wait ended, a flood of pent-up emotions were uncorked.
“There were tears for sure,” Tanya said. "I was ecstatic."
RaeAnne and Cooper are slated to take to the same court again.
On Friday, RaeAnne made her commitment to Western official, signing her letter of intent at Twin Bridges High School with her mother on one side and her brother Isaac on the other.
“It was a huge relief to finally put in on paper,” RaeAnne said, who will head for Western this fall as a walk-on redshirt freshmen while beginning her pursuit of an elementary education degree. “I’m excited to be a part of the team.”
"I don't think (RaeAnne) ever lost sight of that dream and just kept fighting," Tanya added. "And now she's where she wanted to be."
Having attended Western basketball camps since second grade, RaeAnne felt it was fitting she landed in Dillon.
“To be honest, I think I’ve always wanted to go to Western,” RaeAnne said. “The girls on the team have always been willing to help, even before they knew I was going up there.”
RaeAnne will join a loaded Western team that last season made its first-ever run to the NAIA National Tournament semifinals in Billings. The Bulldogs will return nine seniors for next season, including NAIA First-Team All-American Brianna King.
Though her goal of signing on with a college program has been reached, RaeAnne realizes she’s now going to have to demonstrate that she has what it takes to excel at the next level.
“I’m going to have to work really hard this year to prove myself,” RaeAnne said.
In addition to working towards her degree, she hopes to find opportunities to coach younger players along the way.
And, attending school less than an hour from her home in Sheridan, RaeAnne noted an extra benefit.
"It'll be nice to come home and see my dog...and my mom and brothers of course," she said with a laugh.