SHERIDAN — On Dec. 6, 2014, Tiana Hanson wasn’t expecting to spend her Saturday night dealing with a bully.
The Sheridan College women’s basketball team was on their home floor at the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome with a matchup against the tough North Dakota State College of Science. Not even halfway through the season, Hanson was still adjusting to her new role with the Lady Generals. The team was rolling — a 10-2 record — and the sophomore was finding her groove.
But for 40 minutes, one of the North Dakota players was trying to break Hanson down.
“You’re too small,” Hanson recalls her saying. “You need to get in the weight room. You can’t score on me.”
Hanson, at 6-foot-1, isn’t the biggest center in the league. She isn’t the strongest player in the league. The bully was kind of right.
But Hanson scored on her. A lot. She finished with 44 points and 14 rebounds, and Sheridan won in overtime.
That’s because Hanson is one of the hardest working players in the league, and it all started with her freshman season at Sheridan College.
Hanson grew up in Shepherd, Montana, where she starred at Shepherd High School. Basketball was her passion, and she came to Sheridan ready to get to work. But the work was scarce.
With two post players ahead of her, playing time wasn’t in Hanson’s favor. She didn’t start a single game as a freshman and averaged just 7 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.
Maybe it was her lack of size. Maybe it was her lack of experience. Whatever it was, though, Hanson wasn’t content with it.
“I was kind of actually a little upset about it because I’ve never been benched before,” Hanson said. “My brothers and my dad told me that I needed to put myself in a position where coach McCarthy cannot afford to not play me. That was my mindset throughout the whole season and offseason.”
While Hanson went to her brothers — she has four, three older and one younger — and her dad for advice, they gave her more than that. They helped her get better. She’s always had a strong relationship with her brothers, but that didn’t stop them from taking it to her on the basketball court.
“Just the fact that I know that I can compete with people of that size,” she said. “It’s given me confidence going into games when I’m like, ‘Oh, crud, that person’s a lot bigger than me.’ But then I think, ‘Oh, I’ve played with my brothers.’”
It’s that confidence, along with extra hours in the gym, that did exactly what Hanson hoped it would: forced her coach to play her.
Hanson scored 13 points in her first game as a sophomore. She followed that with a 20-point performance. Before long, the lanky post player rattled off games of 20, 28, 40 and 20 points before capping it off with her 44-point outburst against a girl that told her she was too small. Those five games began an 18-game streak of at least 14 points.
“Tiana was kind of a surprise,” Sheridan College head coach Frank McCarthy said. “But it was just her work ethic and her desire to get better.”
It wasn’t just the numbers. Hanson’s desire to improve herself became a desire to help her teammates.
Generally a soft-spoken, kind-hearted person, Hanson didn’t want another freshman year. Her first year at Sheridan wasn’t just a struggle for playing time, it was a struggle inside the locker room. A lack of chemistry led to a disappointing 18-13 season, including four straight losses to end the season.
“Last year our team chemistry wasn’t nearly as good,” she said. “This year there was a couple rough spots, and I’m like, ‘No, we are not going to have last year happen again.’”
“There’s girls; there’s drama,” she added. “There were times where somebody needed to say something, and I just tried to put myself in a position where people would respect me, and then I would say something.”
One of those instances came in that Dec. 6 game. Despite Hanson’s dominance in the post, that North Dakota player wouldn’t stop talking. So when an unnecessary elbow was delivered to Hanson’s teammate, Sierra Toms, the straw broke the camel’s back.
“I went up to her and was just like, ‘Seriously, knock it off,” Hanson said. “Those were the only words that I said to her the entire game.”
It was assistant coach Ryan Davis’ favorite moment from the season.
“My first thought wasn’t the 44 points,” Davis said. “It was Tiana getting in that girl’s face and sticking up for her teammate. That’s just not usually what you get from Tiana. She’s a nice person, but when she gets on the court she has a little bit of a light switch that she turns on.”
Hanson finished the season with 20.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds, 53 percent shooting and 79 percent free-throw shooting. Her 288 free-throw attempts were first in the country and she was 12th in the nation in points. The Lady Generals finished the season 25-7, and Hanson signed with Montana State University-Billings to continue her career next season.
“She’s just a good friend, a solid person,” McCarthy said. “She was as good a teammate as we’ve had here. I think that her best days are in front of her.”