HELENA — Carroll College has done it again. For the 15th time since 1982-83 when the award was first given, the Saints won the Frontier Conference’s Bandy Award.
“It’s a reflection of the hard work and dedication of coaches, of student-athletes and support staff,” Carroll Athletic Director Charlie Gross said. “Kudos to all of them for what they did this past year with all of the elements that were thrown at them.”
The Bandy All-Sports Memorial Trophy is given to the school that amasses the most points throughout the athletic year based on regular season finishes in Frontier-sponsored sports. Carroll, for the eighth time since the 2009-10 athletic season, accomplished that feat with 136 combined points.
The Saints won regular season conference titles in women’s cross country, women’s basketball, men’s and women’s outdoor track and field and were co-champions in football.
“It’s really exciting to see all of our sports recognized and see Carroll College recognized as the top athletic and academic institution in the Frontier,” Carroll women’s basketball head coach Rachelle Sayers said. “Obviously we’re extremely proud of the academics that Carroll offers, but to see the athletic programs continue to excel is exciting.”
Carroll possesses the most Bandy Awards of any Frontier institution, followed by Rocky Mountain College and Montana Western with eight and six. It is the third time Carroll has earned the honor since Gross became the AD in the spring of 2016.
“We want to model excellence in everything that we do,” Gross said. “When you can put the pieces together and strive to excel to the point where you look around and, more times than not, you’ve beat the competition, that’s icing on the cake. Our goal this year was to create somewhat of a normal experience with the lack of normalcy around us and a meaningful experience. When you look back on each team’s ability to be competitive at the level that they were, I would say they achieved their goals.”
Finding success on the court, gridiron, field and pitch took more effort during the 2020-21 cycle than in years past. Gross was quick to point out all the work behind the scenes that went into competitive success for the Saints, including all the game day staff that dealt with nearly every sport being played during the same timeframe of winter into early spring.
Athletic trainers and their staff also had the task of testing student-athletes, coaches and administrators for COVID-19 on a near-daily basis while making sure all the appropriate protocols were being adhered to properly.
“There’s a lot of people that put in long hours that make competitions possible and provide opportunities for athletes to compete,” Gross said. “It starts with our athletic training staff who really had to put in a lot of extra time this past year working through all of the COVID protocols and making sure that our student-athletes could practice and train in a safe environment and then compete in a safe environment. They shined this year.”
Success, especially on the field of play, tends to create more success. Carroll has experienced that in recent years with its women’s basketball team winning three of the past four regular season and conference tournament championships. Carroll football won its first Frontier title since 2014 and the outdoor track and field programs claimed the first conference meet held in more than three decades.
“I think the players and coaches here really challenge one another and the expectations are high,” Sayers said. “You don’t want to be the program that isn’t pulling your weight. I think all the athletes here at Carroll, as well as the coaches, are always challenging each other to get better and continue to strive for the excellence that we expect daily from our student-athletes.”
Carroll’s athletic department has experienced a good amount of growth behind the scenes, according to Gross, in areas like student-athlete academic development as well as putting resources toward focusing on their well-being.
For the future, the Saints want to continue striving to meet needs in those areas, but also doing everything it takes to stay competitive between the lines.
“We want to continue the competitive success, both at the conference level and on the national stage,” Gross said. “We want to continue to fill our rosters with high-quality student-athletes that excel in competition, excel in the classroom and excel in our community. We want to continue to enhance our facilities so that we can provide opportunities for quality training, for high-level competitions and positive spectator experiences.”