HELENA — Carroll women’s basketball coach Rachelle Sayers would like to see her current crop of seniors land in the Saints Hall of Fame one day.
Anchored by a pair of All-Americans in Danielle Wagner and Christine Denny, this is the biggest senior class Sayers has had during her time at Carroll, and while the Saints did not get a chance to honor those seniors on Sunday like originally planned, that is something to be proud of.
“It’s just something that you don’t see all the time anymore,” Sayers said. “It’s becoming less and less common to see kids stick it out for four and five years and stay with the same program. I’m extremely grateful for them. Obviously they’ve had tremendous success.”
A group that includes Jaidyn Lyman, Molly McDermott and Emma Madsen in addition to the aforementioned Wagner and Denny, this class has had its fingerprints on 89 wins and counting over the last four seasons. Carroll has also been a three-time conference and two-time tournament champion and has made itself no stranger to the NAIA National Tournament.
“I think they’ll be remembered as one of the most successful groups of players that have come through Carroll College,” Sayers said. “You look at the amount of wins they’ve had, national tournament appearances, Frontier Conference tournaments, we’ve got two that are already All-Americans. I think that this group will be in the Hall of Fame when they’re eligible, they’re that good.”
Wagner and Denny will finish their careers inside the top-20 on Carroll’s women’s basketball all-time scoring list and will be remembered for their All-American status. The group as a whole, however, will be remembered by its success, but also the standard that has been established through hard work and commitment to the program.
“We would not have had the success that we’ve had without them,” Sayers said. “They are coaches on the floor, they’re coaches off the floor, and I feel like with those seniors I’m on the same page with them almost daily. What I’m thinking, what they’re thinking and it just is so easy to coach them.”
All five seniors have played in at least 16 games for the Saints this season. Lyman, who was an impact player almost from the second she stepped foot on campus, is a defensive stopper for a Saints team that ranks inside the top-20 nationally in scoring defense.
Through that defensive intensity and also her effort on the offensive end scoring 3.8 points per game this season, the passion she said she wants to be remembered for shines through. Lyman will not soon forget her teammates and coaches and is happy to call herself a Saint after making the trip from Spokane, Washington to don the purple and gold.
“That’s pretty cool,” Lyman said of being able to call herself an alumna of Carroll. “Obviously the basketball program is really good and then also being able to go to school here and get a good education is a big thing, as well.”
McDermott comes from the same hometown as Lyman, and in conjunction with Madsen, have helped further Carroll’s cause in roles off the bench. Both McDermott and Madsen have appeared in over 60 career games thus far and have 265 career points between them. They both want to be remembered as reliable teammates and friends from their team at Carroll.
While Madsen spent her first collegiate season at Cal Baptist, she said her three years in the purple and gold have gone by too fast. McDermott, who has 101 career points to her credit and has appeared in all 19 games this season, will most remember the people she met and the tight knit community of Helena from her time at Carroll.
Madsen is a native of Great Falls and understands just how big of a milestone something like graduating from Carroll really is.
“I think that’s four years for hard work, no matter who you are,” Madsen said. “Whether you’re a student-athlete or whether you’re just a regular student, I think graduating is a huge accomplishment, especially from a school like Carroll. It’s a really great school, a really great basketball program, so to complete that is a big accomplishment.”
Wagner, whose two brothers Billy and Gary played football at Carroll, knew all about what the purple and gold had to offer before she even stepped on campus. Just like Gary, who was the quarterback on Carroll’s 2010 National Championship team, Wagner will leave her mark all over Saints history as an All-American, First-Team All-Conference selection and a 1,000-point scorer.
“It’s everything to me...Just being a Saint, I couldn’t ask for it any other way,” Wagner said. “It’s the people in Helena, they’re amazing and I’m so glad that I chose to come to Carroll.”
Denny is just 62 points behind Wagner on the all-time scoring list as things stand right now with 1,103 career points. She is a two-time All-American selection and is averaging a career-high 12.7 points per game through 19 contests this season. Denny also ranks 12th on the women’s all-time rebounding list and currently paces the team with 6.3 per game.
“I think I’ll remember most our game day atmosphere and how much fun we had playing in front of the fans, and the awesome community that comes with that,” Denny said.
Denny called the decision to attend Carroll “the best decision I’ve made in my life so far,” and is thankful for the person it has helped her become.
This group has been through a lot together and has placed its name on some signature moments. Sayers points to a road win over Montana Western during the 2018-19 campaign that secured the Frontier Tournament Championship, as well as a win over Boise State in an exhibition game in 2017 as a couple big moments this group helped accomplish.
Staying the course in the year of COVID-19, however, may very well be the biggest accomplishment for this class.
In a season that has been so uneven with all the cancellations and postponements, to have the type of success that comes with a 17-2 campaign is far from easy.
“I think that’s really going to come down to the defining moment of this group,” Sayers said. “They’re going to take so much out of this year into their life after basketball, win or lose a National Championship. Obviously it’s a huge goal, but I think they have the ability to do it, I think they have the heart to do it and hopefully they have that opportunity to keep playing long into March.”
The Saints have lost no more than 10 games in a regular season over the last four years and are well on their way to completing a two-loss campaign. Runs into the national tournament and continued success within the Frontier have set a standard of winning that future teams can set their sights on.
“They’re driven and when they leave here, the expectations of the group that is behind them -- the bar has been set even higher,” Sayers said. “I’m extremely proud of all of them and what they have given to this program and to me. I 100 percent believe they’ve left this program better than they found it.”
Nevertheless, a sense of unfinished business lingers in the air around the program. Last season’s run at a title was cut short due to the pandemic, but through the hard work and commitment from this group of seniors and every other player on the roster, Carroll finds itself in a great position to add a National Championship to the trophy case.
“I think we do have a lot of unfinished business,” McDermott said. “We should have won nationals last year, we should have won it the year before and I think we’re all ready to win it this year. I think this team is completely capable of doing that.”