BILLINGS — As the final buzzer rang through the Rimrock Auto Arena, senior forward Hannah Dean’s eyes began to tear up.

It signaled the end of the Carroll College’s women’s basketball season following a 60-59 loss to Oklahoma City in the second round of the NAIA national tournament.

Dean still congratulated her teammates on a successful season and went over to shake the hands of the OCU players.

She left the court for what could be the last time as a player in a competitive basketball game.

But she didn’t look back. There were no regrets.

“I wouldn’t have traded this season for the world,” said Dean, fighting back tears. “I couldn’t have asked for more to go out with this group of girls. I’m just so proud of them, I’m proud of our coaches. It was a great year.”

In today’s age, college basketball has changed.

Long gone is the time that seniors were celebrated on the big stage. ESPN just pays attention to major college flashy freshmen headed to professional basketball stardom.

It seems like the four-year college basketball player is becoming an afterthought.

But a player like Dean was never an afterthought. Not at Carroll College.

Dean doesn’t hold the program’s top scoring total, nor does she have the championship rings on each finger to show off.

What she does have is the determination and heart coach Rachelle Sayers can use as a guide to move forward in recruiting.

In an Under the Halo podcast 406mtsports.com produced this past January, Sayers described Dean as a cornerstone of her team.

“Every player you recruit, you feel like this is the player you could build the program around or this could be the one to change the culture or really help us get over the hump,” Sayers said. “Not very many of them end up being the one, but Hannah ended up being the one for us.”

“She has changed that culture, continued to build on a tradition that was here way before we were here and will continue to set a standard that will leave a legacy.”

Dean’s teammates have also been touched by her legacy.

After all, she held a strong senior locker room presence, and was a force both offensively and defensively that will need to be filled.

Redshirt freshman Nikki Krueger saw limited minutes this season but will enter next season competing for the starting forward position. She said she will miss Dean, but knows she she will be armed with the wisdom and preparation bestowed upon her.

“Hannah is one of the best athletes and people I have ever played under," Krueger said. “She always got me in the gym with her, we worked out and she always pushed me to be the best. She is going to be a big loss for us and we are going to have to work extra hard in the post.”

Dean will stay around Carroll College, having decided to get back into volleyball during her final year in college.

She played for Gardiner High where she was a three-time class C state champion.

“I need to get this bad taste out of my mouth (of the tournament loss) somehow,” Dean joked.

That doesn’t mean she won’t be peaking in during practice and supporting her teammates like she has been doing for the last three years.

“I will be around to help any way I can,” Dean said. “I can’t wait to see what this team does. I know they will do big things.”

Even when she isn’t in uniform, she doesn’t stop leading.

That’s Hannah Dean for you.

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Ryan Kuhn covers Carroll College athletics for the Independent Record and 406mtsports.com. Email him at ryan.kuhn@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @rskuhn

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