MISSOULA — Maddie Keast and Tyler Hobbs share a common thread in their basketball careers: former longtime Sentinel girls coach Karen Deden.
Keast, the Hellgate girls coach, played for Deden and then was an assistant under her at Sentinel. Hobbs, the Sentinel girls coach, also worked under Deden during the time Keast was an assistant.
They both have their teams off to 2-0 starts in Western AA play and will face each other for the first time when the initial round of crosstown action begins this week. The Spartans play at Big Sky 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and then travel to Hellgate 7 p.m. Friday.
“I’m super excited,” Keast said. “A lot of respect for Hobbs. He’s amazing at motivating kids the right way. He understands when to push it and when to give them comfort. I wish him the best of luck except when we have to face each other.
“It’ll be a lot different mindset my first game against Sentinel as a Knight and not a Spartan. I got to make sure I’m clapping for the right team when the basket goes in.”
Hobbs added: “It’ll be fun. It’s already a great rivalry between the schools. I got to know Maddie from coaching with her in the Sentinel program. We have a lot of mutual friends and mentors. It’ll be really fun to go up against her. She’s doing a good job and has a good team, so it’ll be a good challenge for us.”
Keast helped the Deden-coached Spartans win state titles in 2013 and 2014 after she transferred from Loyola ahead of her junior season. Deden won three state championships and made the title game six times in 21 seasons at her alma mater.
After playing for the Montana Lady Griz and Montana Tech, Keast served as the Sentinel girls freshman coach in 2021 under Deden, who had played collegiately for the Washington Huskies. She took over as the Loyola girls head coach last year and parlayed her success there into the head role at Hellgate this season.
“Hands down, Karen has been the most influential person in my basketball career,” Keast said. “Her and Mandy Morales are the two names that come to mind about who shaped me as a player. Karen genuinely cared about all of us as people and human beings. That has always stuck with me as a transfer. That’s been my motto as a coach is to invest in players as people.
“She was such a smart coach in terms of scouting. The biggest takeaway I’ve tried to mimic is understanding the assignment, knowing personnel, watching film, going in depth, getting kids to understand to watch film in a cerebral way, not being afraid to switch things up and making moves like a chess match. She’s about as good as they get when it comes to coaches. If I’m even 1/10th of the person and 1/10th of the coach Karen was, I’ll be happy with my career.”
Hobbs, a former Montana Grizzlies defensive lineman, spent the 2020 and 2021 seasons as the Sentinel girls junior varsity coach in Deden’s final two years. That was his first time coaching girls after he had coached the Stevensville boys in Class A.
He turned his time with Deden into an opportunity to be the Big Sky girls head coach last season. He led the Eagles to their best record since 2016, helping him land the head gig at Sentinel this season.
“I got to learn how Karen operates a program and what to expect,” he said. “She’s super knowledgeable in a game, but even more so than in the game, she knows how to work with kids and push those kids that might need a little firing up and she knows how to put her arm around a kid. How she dealt with each player individually I think is one of the best qualities about her and something I’ve learned from coaching with her.
“I’ve worked under some really good coaches and everyone has a different perspective on the game and different wrinkles. Karen always liked to play an uptempo style of basketball. I might be a little more unorthodox or unstructured than she was. I certainly have continued the theme of transition and pace of play.”
For Keast, this will be her first time going up against some of the Sentinel players she coached when she was there. She’s also coached some in AAU basketball or trained them at her gym.
She enters the matchup with a team that’s gone 3-2 overall. The Knights are led by Washington State commit Alex Covill, who returned last week after missing two games with a concussion, Keast said.
They’ve also been hit by the loss of senior Sally Blakely to a fractured ankle, according to Keast. They’ve had others step up, like Chloe Larsen scoring 21 points in a game and 18 in another.
“We needed time to get reps in,” Keast said. “The kids playing, aside from Alex, really haven’t had any varsity experience, so facing some tough tests against the Billings teams was a good learning experience for them. We’re getting everybody to learn how to play together and learning our strengths and weaknesses as we’ve gotten these five games under our belts.
“It’s nice to have kids step up. Everyone wants to win, which is such a great mentality. I never have to get on them to want to win or compete. That’s been a really big positive.”
Hobbs has been through a similar situation as the one Keast will experience, going up against some of the Sentinel players he coached when he was at Big Sky last year. He’ll now start this week facing some of the Eagles players he coached last year.
His Spartans come into the week off to a 5-1 start and on a five-game winning streak. They won three games in three days last week.
Sentinel has benefited from a balanced scoring load. Six players have scored in double digits this season: CC Size, Emily McElmurry, Kaitlyn Hammett, Kassidy Kirgan, Monroe Mastro and Olivia Huntsinger.
“We’ve got a good group of kids who have great chemistry with one another, they love each other, they love playing for each other and they love seeing their teammates have success, which is a sign of strong leadership on our team,” Hobbs said.
“What I didn’t realize is how focused and determined they are to be successful. We played three games Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and I was anticipating a drop-off or a lack of focus or energy or tired legs, but they pushed through soreness and tiredness. It was really impressive.”
Big Sky (1-3 overall, 0-2 conference) and Hellgate play for the first time Jan. 20 to complete the first cycle through crosstown action.
Like the girls, the Sentinel boys are also playing two crosstown games this week, while Hellgate and Big Sky play one game each.
The Spartans will be on the road at Big Sky 7 p.m. Tuesday. They then travel to Hellgate 5:30 p.m. Friday.
Sentinel and Hellgate are both 1-1 in Western AA play, while Big Sky is 0-2. The Knights are 4-2 overall, the Spartans are 2-4 and the Eagles are 1-5.
Hellgate and Big Sky will play for first time Jan. 20.
The Jug Beck Rocky Mountain Classic will be held Friday and Saturday at Sentinel.
The first round, second round and quarterfinals of the championship brackets, and the first three rounds of the consolation brackets will be Friday. Action starts at 11 a.m.
The semifinals and finals of the championship brackets, and the last four rounds of the consolation brackets are Saturday. Action starts at 9 a.m. The championships finals are scheduled for 3 p.m.