When the ball left Tayla Sayer’s hand it was a hurry-up prayer, a beat-the-clock jumper that she had little faith in.
The ball did ricochet off the glass before dropping through the net at Northwest College’s Cabre Gym.
The three-pointer from right in front of the Lady Trappers’ bench from about 22 feet gave the Northwest women’s basketball team a 69-66 victory over the Rocky Mountain College’s junior varsity.
Any buzzer beater is sweet, but this felt better than most because after playing all five of their season-opening games and losing all five, the Lady Trappers energized their fans and gave new coach Camden Levett his first victory in Powell.
After building large leads twice and watching them nearly vanish, NWC did not want to let this one slip away.
“I felt really confident in the shot,” said guard Kaylee Brown on the pass-in that began the sequence. “I never once felt uneasy about it.”
This was not the play drawn up by Levett. The goal was for guard Tess Henry to take the last shot.
“Of course it looks good on a clipboard,” Levett said. “The defense steps in.”
The win, the plays, the coach, are all new at Northwest following the 2017-18 season, one of the best in school history.
Northwest finished 25-8 and reached the Region IX finals, just short of a trip to the national championships. Soon after, coach Janis Beal departed for the College of Idaho.
The leading scorers all graduated as well, with Sayer, Brown, Shelby Wardell and Samantha McCrorey returning. However, McCrorey is sidelined by a knee injury.
The typical high-season hiring period for basketball coaches is the spring. Northwest announced Levett’s hire June 5. Because of the speed-up hire under Northwest’s employment rules he is labeled an interim coach.
That time frame is also very late in the recruiting process, so Levett had to hustle to fill out the roster.
“It was really late in the game,” he said. “Within two months I had 13. I lucked into some available Wyoming players.”
Mikell McIntosh of Lovell, Tayler Groll of Evanston and Selena Cudney of Rock Springs join Wardell as Wyoming players on the roster.
So most players did not share the joy of last season. Brown said Beal called a team meeting to inform the Lady Trappers she was departing from the program where she had coached for a decade and once had been a star player.
“When Coach Beal told us she was leaving, we cried a lot,” Brown said. “It was hard.”
All four sophomores returned though, after Brown said they talked it over and became determined to make their last year of junior college special too.
Levett has introduced new plays and a new offensive style.
“You get a new skill set,” Brown said.
There are still plenty of growing pains and there are difficulties associated with a schedule that is top-heavy on road games when home games would have been more welcome than usual while melding a new team.
“It felt good to be home,” Levett said after the victory.
He said his style does differ from Beal’s.
“We play more loose,” Levett said. “There are not a lot of called plays.”
He came to Powell from Billings, Rocky’s home base, and recruited most of the players on the opposition squad. There was no scouting report needed for him.
Twice it seemed the Lady Trappers would run away with the game.
NWC burst to a 17-4 lead at the start and after only leading by two at the intermission, started the second half with a 13-0 run.
That’s when Levett thought his team had control, only to watch Rocky Mountain nibble away, never leading but tying things with a minute to play.
Although Brown said she thought Sayer’s shot was a sure thing, the shooter didn’t.
“Not for me,” Sayer said. “I just kind of knuckled it up there.”
Sayer never contemplated leaving because Beal left.
“It’s way different,” she said. “It has been an adjustment. But I love playing here.”