Saints sizzle

After completing her illustrious career at Helena High, Amy Brooks attended the University of Montana before transferring to Carroll College. In her junior and senior years, the Saints posted a combined record of 57-14.

HELENA — Amy Brooks is regarded as one of Helena High's all-time greatest female athletes. She was a four-time all-stater — three in basketball and one in softball — and an all-conference volleyball player for Helena High from 1999 to 2003.

After becoming Helena’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, Brooks then took her hoops game to the next level, where the 6-foot-2 post became an All-American for Carroll College in 2007.

“Amy was a five that could do it all; post, drive to the rim, shoot the 15-footer, and on occasion shoot the 3,” former HHS cage coach Steve Keller said. “I remember we were down three to Hellgate (at State) and we ran the play for her. She hit the 3 and we won in OT.

“Amy was also very athletic — she could run and jump, and was very coachable. Arguably, she is one of the best ever to play at HHS.”

All State sophomore

After moving up to varsity midway through her freshman year in 1999, Brooks came off the bench as a 6-foot-1 reserve post and helped Helena to the Western AA runner-up and third-place trophy at the state tournament.

The next year — basketball was played in the fall back then — she started on coach Keller’s “A” team as a sophomore. In the 12th game of the season, she achieved her first varsity double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds in a 39-33 loss to Missoula Hellgate.

The Lady Bengals won the 2000 Western championship with a 10-2 record in league play, and entered State at 17-3. Helena, which was ranked No. 1 in the state, was led by senior guard Shyla Epler’s 12.1 points average, and Brooks, at 11.7 ppg and a team-high 6.5 rebounding average.

At the state tournament opener in The Jungle, HHS held on for a 51-48 win over Billings West, sparked by Brooks and Epler with 13 and 12 points respectively. In the semifinals, Helena defeated Great Falls High 45-39, with Brooks leading the way at 14 points, 12 rebounds and 5 steals, followed by Stephanie Baertsch with 12 counters.

Helena then settled for runner-up, being edged by Flathead 32-29 in the chipper’s defensive battle. In a very physical contest, Brooks picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter and had to sit down until the final frame.

Brooks and Epler were both selected first team all-tournament and all-state. Teammate Baertsch was tabbed honorable mention all-tourney. Epler, who went on to play collegiately for Montana Western, erased Amy Mouat’s school career scoring record, compiling 891 points.

The talented 2000 Bengals finished at 19-4 overall, and two years later, that season’s 1-2 punch of Brooks and Epler would stand as HHS’ top-two leading scorers for nearly 16 years, from 2003-19.

Buzzer-beating trey

The next year, Helena finished second in the conference with a 9-3 mark (15-5 overall), and placed third at the state tourney in Missoula.

They dropped the state curtain-raiser to the East’s No. 3 seed, Great Falls High, 52-45 before besting crosstown Capital in a loser-out contest, 46-31.

After an overtime win over Missoula Hellgate on Saturday morning — it was Brooks’ buzzer-beating bomb from beyond the 3-point arc that tied the game at 47-all and forced OT — the Lady Bengals avenged their opening round loss to GFH 62-55 in the consolation finals. Helena’s 6-2 post poured in 25 points and speared 10 boards versus the Lady Bison, helping to clinch Helena High's third consecutive State trophy and an overall mark of 18-6.

Brooks averaged 20.3 points and nine rebounds in the tourney, and was named to the all-tournament first team. Her 81 points broke Kari Kockler's 1985 HHS record during State play of 77, and her 25 counters against Great Falls was the second best ever in a tournament game by a Lady Bengal (at that time), behind 26 by Kockler.

Brooks finished the year averaging 15 points and repeated as a first team all-state selection, being joined on the all-conference squads by Baertsch (second team) and Miller (honorable mention).

Records and awards

In the fall of 2002, after volleyball and girls basketball switched seasons, Brooks played volleyball for the first time since middle school, and all she did was garner an all-conference citation at middle blocker for HHS.

On the hard court that winter, under first-year coach Lynn Miller, Brooks spearheaded the Lady Bengals to a state qualification. They went 1-2 at The Show — with Brooks making her third successive all-tourney team — for an overall record of 14-10.

Brooks finished the year averaging 16.5 points and 9.3 rebounds, while garnering her third first-team All-State selection.

Brooks led the Lady Bengals in scoring and rebounding her final three seasons, setting several school records in both categories, including career marks of 1,099 points and 614 rebounds. Her 384 points as a sophomore, and 379 counters her senior year, ranked No. 2 and 3 on the school’s list behind Kockler’s 474 in 1985.

Tough on the diamond

On the softball diamond, Brooks lettered as a freshman first baseman/pitcher for the Lady Bengals, with a .300 batting average, .439 on-base percentage and a .537 slugging percentage.

Her sophomore year, Brooks’ eighth inning walk-off double drove in Amy McCardle for a 1-0 victory over Capital in the 2001 season’s first crosstown win.

“That was a huge hit,” HHS coach Lynn Miller said. “(Brooks) just has that nice, big ol’ swing.”

Helena went 1-2 at State, with Brooks pitching the opening game, a 3-2 win over Bozeman. In their 5-2 elimination game loss to the Lady Bruins, she and junior Ashley Miller collected the only hits during CHS hurler Sheena Nelson’s two-hitter. Having fallen behind 4-0 after the first inning, Brooks came on in relief in the second inning and proceeded to fire shutout ball over the final five frames.

She was selected the 2001 first team All-State first baseman, while Miller was named a second team outfielder. Brooks shared the Lady Bengals Offensive MVP award with Amy McCardle.

In 2002, Brooks was the ace of HHS’ pitching staff, going 5-5 and posting a 1.46 earned run average.

HHS again went 1-2 at State. In the tourney lid-lifter in Billings, Brooks took a 1-0 lead over Great Falls High into the seventh, but sustained a hard-luck 2-1 loss on a pair of unearned runs. She finished with a five-hitter while striking out eight.

Next came a 12-inning 2-1 triumph over Sentinel in the consolation bracket. Brooks worked the entire 12 frames in the circle, scattering six hits and fanning six Missoula batters. She also singled in the bottom of the 12th stanza with one out, and her pinch runner, Ashley Hurt, later scored the winning run on Brittany Rieker’s RBI double.

Carroll All-American, prep records eclipsed by Pickens

Brooks graduated HHS with eight letters: four in basketball, three in softball and one in volleyball. She received a hoops scholarship to the University of Montana, but eventually transferred to Carroll College.

In her junior year of 2005-06, she led the Saints in rebounding at 7.9 boards per game. Carroll placed as Frontier Conference runners-up and qualified for the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City, winding up with an overall mark of 27-8.

In her final season, Brooks averaged 15.2 points and 7.5 rebounds, with 20 steals, while helping the Lady Saints to the NAIA tourney again in a season where they achieved 30 victories. Her junior and senior years, Carroll posted a combined record of 57-14.

Brooks capped off her illustrious career as an NAIA second team women’s basketball All-American.

Both of her prep career records at Helena High were broken this year by a player equal to Brooks’ skills, the great Jamie Pickens. Pickens now sits atop the Lady Bengals leaderboard with 1,147 points and 820 rebounds.

But it took 16 years to happen.

“Amy had a great combination of size, speed and strength,” said former IR sports writer Tom Stuber, who covered Brooks’ high school and college sports. “Her strong inside presence created space for Helena High’s and Carroll’s perimeter players, which set those teams apart."

Stu opined that she was "probably the best girl’s prep post player in Helena" until Jamie Pickens came along.

"I was very blessed to have stud teammates and some of the best coaches," Brooks commented from her home in Butte. "I couldn't have done it without my family, either - I don't think they ever missed a game."

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Curt Synness can be reached at 594-2878 or email curt52synness@gmail.com. He’s also on Twitter at @curtsynness_IR

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