The shoes Butte Central senior guard Kloie Thatcher is trying to fill are pretty large.
First, there’s the history of success for the Maroons girls’ basketball team. An undefeated run to the state title in 2016. Second-place the year before. Third-place last season.
And then there are the players she’s having to help replace. Montana Tech’s Mollie Peoples and Montana State-Billings’ Emily St. John both come to mind.
Like both of those standout players before her, she'll also be playing collegiate ball. Thatcher will be taking her talents to Rocky Mountain College where she will play for the Wes Keller's Battlin' Bears.
When asked about the pressure of taking over the team and becoming what her team needs her to be, however, she’s quite honest.
“Right now I’m still trying to figure out that path of what it means to be a leader,” Thatcher admitted. “The girls that I play with, they’re going to help me become a better leader because they’re going to be leaders themselves.
“As things get going, all of us are going to need to be a leader, not just one.”
On the court, Thatcher is nearly always in control of what’s going on. She’s vocal and more than willing to let her teammates know if they need to be doing something a different way, but the respect is obvious.
A knock-down shooter, she’s been an important part of Central’s offense this season and has the innate ability to know when to pass or when to put up a shot.
“Kloie is making some awfully good passes right now, we’re just not catching them,” Central head coach Meg Murphy said. “You’ve gotta hope that by February the kids understand who she is and what kind of player she is.”
The ability to make those decisions just might be what helps get the Maroons back into the state championship. Murphy seemed impressed with how she’s handled everything this season and only expects more growth.
“She was just all of the sudden the leader,” Murphy said. “Even though she’s one of the top guards in the state, shifting roles is hard sometimes. I think you’ll see her hit a different gear before it’s over.
“She’s so unselfish that she’s got to find a little selfishness in her.”
The Maroons have some weapons coming back in Bella Sorini and Kailee Murphy, both of whom should help open up some space on the perimeter for Thatcher. They were both injured for the first six games of the season and Murphy sounded excited to have them back in the mix.
While Central’s outside shooting has been solid this season, it’s undermanned post game has sometimes struggled. The Maroons are still winning games thanks to solid defensive effort and clutch shooting, but adding some depth will only help.
“This is a whole different group than what we had last year,” Thatcher said. “Hopefully sooner rather than later things start clicking.”
When they do, watch out.
As this team gets into the heart of its conference slate and really starts building that confidence, things will likely improve for a team that has just one loss. That should be a little scary to any of the teams vying for a championship in Class A ball.
The catalyst of this all is, of course, Thatcher and the three other seniors on this team — Murphy, Olivia Bolton and Megan Michelotti.
It’s a talented group, but it seems like Thatcher is the engine driving the rest of the car. For a team set on heading to a championship, having a fiery guard leading the charge is pretty much a best-case scenario.
“She’s just a great kid, a great leader,” Murphy said of Thatcher. “As the season goes along we’ll get better. We’ll definitely get better.”