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SHERIDAN—Sheridan College basketball players Tiana Hanson and Erika Erickson and Gillette College’s MacKenzie Lepley are competitive rivals on the court.
Off it, though, is a different story entirely.
The trio of hardwood standouts forged a bond long before becoming collegiate athletes. In Shepherd, Mont., a town of 500 residents, 15 miles northeast of Billings, they came of age together. Clad in blue and gold, Hanson, Erickson and Lepley starred for the Class B Mustangs, powering the team to a state tournament appearance as seniors last year.
Twelve months later, as freshmen in college, they are playing integral roles for the SC Generals and GC Pronghorns, as both jockey for postseason success in Region IX play. Bill Lepley, the head girls’ basketball coach at Shepherd and MacKenzie Lepley’s father, knew they would develop into pivotal players.
“They were always real good friends and competitors,” coach Lepley said Saturday night, following Gillette’s 82-76 double overtime victory over Sheridan inside the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome. “They played four years for me and got to the state tournament last year. It was a great run with them.”
The younger Lepley, Hanson and Erickson embraced before and after the game, offering insights as to what it’s like playing against nearly lifelong teammates.
“It’s way different because we get on the court together and we look at each other and we laugh and we definitely talk before and after every game,” said MacKenzie Lepley, a 5-foot-7 guard looking to pursue a degree in forensics, and continue her athletic career, after Gillette College.
“It’s somewhat the same, but I’m not looking for those players to pass to. I have to guard them now.”
Erickson and Hanson both keep in close touch with Lepley, while building a bond as Generals.
“The competition between each other and knowing how we all play against each other and knowing our weaknesses and strengths, it’s pretty interesting,” said Erickson, a 5-8 guard. “I love getting to play with (Tiana) every day and see her on campus all the time. It made our friendship a lot stronger.”
Hanson and Erickson were recruited to join a Sheridan College program that has won the North division of Region IX 11 of the past 12 years. Coach Frank McCarthy’s Generals have averaged more than 23 wins a year during that span, putting SC among the premier NJCAA programs.
McCarthy has long recruited Shepherd products. Having coached a decade at Montana State University-Billings before helming the Sheridan College team, McCarthy familiarized himself with coach Lepley’s program.
“I always liked to recruit Bill’s players,” McCarthy said. “Not only were they good players but also solid in character.”
Erickson picked Sheridan College, first and foremost, because of the dental hygiene program, “and it was close to home,” she added, “so I tried out for basketball after I decided on Sheridan.”
Hanson, a swift 6-foot post player who is studying elementary education, has served as a catalyst this year for the Generals, who have met Lepley and the Pronghorns three times this season. It’s still somewhat of an adjustment for Hanson, seeing her high school teammate lace up against her.
“We talk pretty often and ask how each other are doing, and then when we see each other, like we when we saw each other for the first time (Saturday, Feb. 1), we ran up and gave each other a hug, just because we miss each other,” Hanson said, about Lepley. “But, like Erika said, we do know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Hanson added: “I really like playing with (Erika). We definitely do have extra chemistry and we know where each other are.”
From Sheridan College Reports