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MISSOULA — He's 42 years old now and has the physique of a fullback instead of a wide receiver.

But you get the feeling former Montana Grizzly football standout Travis Walker loves his sporting life today every bit as much as he did in 1999 when he polished off a stellar college career.

Certainly he has reason to smile these days. His Loyola Sacred Heart girls basketball team moved to 8-1 Friday night with a 55-34 win over visiting Anaconda.

"This is where (ex-Grizzlies) come to hang out," Walker said with a chuckle.

As a former football guy, you'd assume Travis might have a little hard-nosed Lombardi in his coaching repertoire. Or at least a little fiery Robin Selvig since his wife is former Lady Griz star Catie (McElmurry) Walker.

To the contrary, he's a mostly-cool customer, eternally grateful for the support system he has at home with his wife and in the gym with assistant coaches Chris Clevenger and Abbie McGill.

"We're trying to get them back to playing all 32 minutes, playing hard, but also having fun," offered the second-year skipper. "We need to be able to laugh at ourselves because we all make some sort of silly play during the game at some point." 

The Breakers may make mistakes now and then but they're adept at making the other team make more errors with a relentless press defense. Anaconda turned the ball over 13 times in the first half Friday and it was a big reason why the hosts led 33-17 at intermission.

Of all the lessons Walker learned as a football player under his father in Plentywood and then under ex-Grizzly coaching legends Don Read and Mick Dennehy, work ethic might be the one he's carried with him the longest. His players are in supreme shape — they have to be with the Breakers' defensive emphasis.

"They get their hands on a lot of loose balls," Walker said, "and it's not all to get the steal. It's for wearing the opponent down by the fourth quarter."

Anaconda made things interesting in the third quarter Friday, shaving its deficit to 33-20 at 6:56. Loyola responded with a 3-ball by Walker's freshman daughter, Lani Walker, and the Copperheads never did manage to get their deficit into single digits.

"I like how my dad is awesome to the team, just super-positive to everybody," said Lani Walker, who finished with 13 points, second on her team to junior Sam Clevenger with 18. "And I like how he coaches. I think he tries to fit everybody together really good.

"We practiced pretty hard all the way through the beginning of November and our defense has been great. I think how everybody is so positive to each other really helps."

Loyola will put its sparkling record to the test on Saturday when it plays host to unbeaten, eighth-ranked Whitehall at 2:30 p.m.

"It'll be a fun day for the girls," coach Walker said.

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Bill Speltz is the Deputy Sports Editor of the Missoulian. Email him at bill.speltz@406mtsports.com.

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