SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s a long way geographically, culturally and athletically from Box Elder to Spokane. But sisters Joelnell and Kyla Momberg seem to be making the adjustments just fine.
Joelnell, a senior, scored 26 points on Tuesday – four off her season high – and sophomore point guard Kyla added two points and eight assists, many to her big sister, in Mead’s 63-38 win over Lewis and Clark.
The sisters transferred to Mead this season after leading the Box Elder girls to their second straight Montana Class C basketball championship last season. Class C is Montana’s smallest classification, for schools with enrollment of 1-107 students.
Box Elder is an unincorporated community with an official population of 87 in north-central Montana and is the headquarters of the Chippewa-Cree tribe. The neighboring community helps bump the population in the area to roughly 800.
The elder Momberg, a 5-foot-8 shooting guard, came over to Mead for her senior season having already committed to the University of Montana.
The girls’ stepfather, Joel Rosette, was also their coach the past two seasons, while his wife, Bonnell St. Goodard, served as principal for the senior and junior high schools in Box Elder.
“Box Elder has always been our home, and we love it there,” Rosette told the Great Falls Tribune last May. “We preach to our children and try to lead by example to continuously grow. Leading in the community and educational realm, we’d like for them to step out of their comfort zones and embrace the change with us.”
“We had one road (in town),” Kyla said. “Just a school and a little convenience store. So this is, this is really different. It’s a good different.”
“We can go to the movies whenever we want, or to the store,” Joelnell added.
“I think sometimes when you grow up in small towns, you want to see what else is out there, too,” Rosette said. “It was a family decision. We were all at that point where we wanted to experience life outside of Montana, away from the places we love. We thought if we did it together, all our kids will know they’re capable of doing whatever they set their minds to do.”
The change has agreed with the girls – on and off the court.
“We’re doing really good,” Joelnell said after Tuesday’s game. “I think we had a good welcoming from not only our team, but this school and this community, so it was easy to adjust and like feel at home.
“I enjoy coming to practice every day. I enjoy seeing (teammates) every day at school and then just working hard with them. I think it’s really fun, and they’re making my last year pretty fun, too.”
Naturally, picking up and moving before her senior year from the only home she’s known took some getting used to.
“It was weird at first,” she said. “I’ve lived in that place, you know, my whole life pretty much and then to move over here, it was just different. I think it was a big culture shock because I came from a high school with 100 kids in it and then I came here and I didn’t know what to think of it.
“But it’s been really fun – it’s been different. And I think the challenge is what makes it worth it, I guess. To just getting over those lumps and then accomplishing things that I didn’t think I could.”
“I think going from a school where there’s K through 12, under 100 students to school that’s (grade) nine through 12 with 1,600 students – that was a big adjustment for them,” Mead coach Quantae Anderson said. “And then the types of classes are a little different. But they’re holding their own.”
They’re fitting right in on the basketball court. Joelnell averages 15.4 points, while Kyla is at 6.5, with several double-digit efforts to her credit.
“The best thing is that they’re team players,” Anderson said. “Very selfless.”
With a couple of state titles and player of the year honors already, Joelnell is concentrating on the mental side of the game this season.
“My personal goal was being more of a vocal leader and trying to develop relationships with all of the girls on the team,” she said. “I’m not really quiet, but I’m kind of quiet, so I think that’s the thing I struggle with is being vocal, so that was one of my biggest thing was just like being more friendly and developing relationship with everyone.”
“She’s a scorer and a shooter and she just is very unselfish,” Anderson said. “She’s a complete player and it’s really fun to watch.”
Both girls have relished the opportunity to play in a bigger, tougher league than what they were accustomed to in Montana.
“There’s tough players in this league,” Joelnell said. “We get good games every night. So that’s been pretty good. It’s hard, you know, leaving a team that you won state with but it’s … I’m not sad about it because you know I got a great team here. We play tough people and it’s fun playing together.”
Anderson said Joelnell fit right in with the tougher competition.
“She just lets the game come to her and that’s maturity and someone that just knows the game,” Anderson said.
“Every day at practice, it’s really great energy,” Kyla said. “I love being with the girls in and out of school. We click really well together.”
As a point guard, Kyla has had to learn the individual games of all her new teammates.
“When I first came here, I was a little shy and wasn’t really passing as well as I know that I could,” she said. “But it was a very easy adjustment. Our posts are always ready for the ball. They’re always looking so when I pass, they’re catching it, they’re putting it up and in. So it’s always good.”
The girls were accustomed to a dribble-drive offense at Box Elder and have been acclimating to Anderson’s motion offense.
“(Kyla) didn’t start last year at her school,” Anderson said. “So to come to a bigger school, and a bigger league, where night in and night out there’s some tough games, you know, especially the 4A level, it’s tough. That was a big adjustment for her.”
Anderson said the girls’ teammates have been getting used to their style of play as well.
“(Kyla) threw some passes to our girls (Tuesday) and our girls are still adjusting to her, right? There are some passes that hit our girls in the stomach, and they’re like, ‘Oh my god,’ you know?”
Despite fitting into her new surroundings, Joelnell keeps up with her friends in Box Elder on a regular basis.
“They talk to me about what they can work on on their team, and I tell them and then ask them, ‘What do you think I could do to lead better,’ and not only as a player, but a person? We talk like that still every day.”