MISSOULA – Rollie Worster was on the road Friday morning when he found out he earned Montana’s highest honor for a high school basketball player.
Worster was driving to Billings to watch his sister, Shannon Worster, play for Montana Western, which defeated Lyon College in the second round of the NAIA women’s national basketball tournament. It was then that Worster, a junior at Missoula Hellgate, was named the 2018-2019 Montana Gatorade Player of the Year.
The award caps off what was a stellar season for Worster and the Knights.
“It feels really good. I knew I was nominated and finding out through my coach (Jeff Hays) was really cool too,” Worster told 406mtsports.com.
Worster, who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, led the Knights to a 21-2 record as the team’s point guard and third year as a starter. He averaged 22.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. His scoring led Class AA.
Behind Worster and a veteran squad of seven seniors, Hellgate advanced all the way to the Class AA state championship game. The Knights ultimately fell to the Bozeman Hawks 56-54 in overtime on a buzzer-beater.
“We still had a great year. We lost on the last play of the championship and we were all obviously down after that but we knew we had a great year,” Worster said. “The award means a lot because it’s not just me, it’s all of my coaches and teammates. I couldn’t have got it without them so it’s group effort. It means a lot.
“It hasn’t sunk in really.”
After losing in the first round of the state tournament his first two seasons, Worster and the Knights broke through this year with experience playing a key factor, according to Worster.
“The group of guys we had this year I grew up with my whole life playing with and it was pretty special,” Worster said. “Even though we lost, to have the good season we did and make it to the championship and experience it with the guys you grew up with was pretty fun.”
Worster, who has committed to play basketball at Montana, becomes the first player from Hellgate to win the award since Tres Tinkle did it in 2014-2015. This is the second straight year a player from Missoula earned the award after Sentinel’s Sam Beighle did it last season.
“Rollie Worster is by far the most skilled and athletic player I’ve seen across the state,” Sentinel coach Jay Jagelski said in the press release. “He’s constantly able to produce 20-plus point games while being keyed on by every opponent, and he makes his teammates better with his unselfish play.”
With the honor, he has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of his choosing. He is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of 12 $10,000 spotlight grants for the organization of choice.
"Rollie had a tremendous season and can do it all — scoring, passing, rebounding, defending and making his teammates better around him," Hays said. "There is not another player who has put in the time that he has to make his team and himself better. I know that all of us (players and coaches) are happy for him. Very proud of Rollie and our team."
The loss to Bozeman will sting for quite some time. But with Worster coming back for one more season, the Knights are in good shape to be contenders again when next winter rolls around.
“It just keeps us pushing forward and gives us confidence knowing we’re a good team. We lost a lot of guys but we have some guys coming up and who were with us on the tournament team,” Worster said. “Just to have them get to experience the state feel and making that game and knowing what it takes to win.”