BILLINGS, Mont. — Coming into this season, Yellowstone Christian College Head Coach Dominic Gaglia was optimistic about his team’s showing for their inaugural season. However, the harsh realities of a brutal, road-heavy first semester quickly set in.
From the beginning of the semester until Christmas break, only two of the first 17 ballgames were played in Billings. The rest of their semester saw countless hours on the road to face a plethora of opponents, including teams from the NAIA Frontier Conference, NJCAA’s Region IX, and even a NCAA Division II opponent in the University of Mary.
Junior guard Taneil Poitier, the top recruit for Gaglia, was lost for the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon during an exhibition against Montana Tech in late October. Tana Allen was asked to trade her student assistant clipboard for a jersey, and the homegrown freshman stepped into her new role with grace. Later on in the season, freshman sharpshooter Leonardine John was forced to end her early due to a severely sprained ankle. Despite all odds, the Centurions kept playing.
At one point in the season, just before the Thanksgiving break, the Centurions had eight games in 12 days, with seven of those games coming on the road.
After winning their first-ever game courtesy of a forfeit from Fort Peck Community College, the Centurions went on a 12-game losing skid, suffering a 30-point defeat in each contest. However, the Centurions showed steady progress and growth over the course of the year, and as soon as the calendar flipped to 2017, the women were an entirely new ball club.
Although 2017 didn't start the way they would have hoped, falling 70-65 in overtime on the road to Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College, the Centurions used that momentum to completely turn their season around.
On Jan. 20 against Salish Kootenai College, the Centurions tasted an earned victory for the first time and couldn't get enough. From there, they went on an eight-game winning streak, beating the likes of Oglala Lakota College four times and exacting revenge on NHSC. The winning streak was halted by a red-hot Gillette College squad, but the Centurions won two of their final three games. After sitting at 1-12 at the midway point of their year, the Centurions finished with a respectable 11-14 record.
A team comprised of eight freshmen and one junior, player roles were learned, not given. After Poitier went down with her injury, Tayler Brankovic and Tiani Alvarez stepped up to tag-team the point guard position. Alvarez, a pass-first guard, led the squad averaging 4.2 assists per game. Brankovic was second on the team in scoring, averaging 12 points per game.
Billings native Paige Gregory came into her own late in the season, scoring in double-digits in her final five ballgames to push her average to a team-leading 13.1 points per game. She also led the ball club in rebounds per game with 7.6.
Sharnell Thomas was the workhorse of the team in 2016-2017. The 5-foot-7 guard from Clinton, Utah, was a steady presence on both ends of the ball. Although she didn’t put up staggering numbers, she was a very consistent player Gaglia could rely on.
Deandra Cunningham, the lone junior on the team, made her presence known on the defensive side of the ball. The Bahamas product swatted 25 shots over the course of the season.
Zhane Akeya quietly led the team in steals, swiping two passes per game for the Centurions, including a season-best four steal performance against Salish Kootenai College.
The Centurions will return every player next season and will hope to build off the momentum gained at the end of this season. Stay tuned to www.gocenturions.com and all Centurion social media outlets for off-season news, player signings, and schedule announcements.