Next Chapter

Belgrade seniors Jaiden Blakely, McKenna Carlson and Haylee Curry signed letters of intent Tuesday morning. Blakely and Carlson will play volleyball at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Wash., while Curry is headed to Carroll College for softball.

The first campus visit did the trick. But when Belgrade’s Jaiden Blakely decided to go back for the second to verbally commit, she wanted some company for the long drive to Pasco, Wash.

That’s how teammate McKenna Carlson learned about Columbia Basin College, and Tuesday morning the duo each signed letters of intent to play volleyball at the junior college.

“I had asked a girl on my club team to go with me because she was interested in that school, and she said no. I texted Kenna on a Saturday night to go with me Monday morning, just us two drive to Washington,” Blakely explained. “We left Monday morning to go to Washington. As soon as we got into the area she was so excited to see it and so happy, and as soon as she met coach Jordan and coach Jordan met her, they just clicked right away.”

Middle Blocker

McKenna Carlson earned second team all-conference honors this past season at middle blocker for Belgrade.

The Hawks finished 2-31, including 0-16 in the Northwest Athletic Conference, under the leadership first-year coach Michael Jordan.

Blakely talked with coaches from programs in North Dakota as well as in the western portion of the country — the senior did not speak with any instate schools — before choosing Columbia Basin.

“I really like the idea of only being committed for two years for sure to see if I want to continue or not,” Blakely said. “The campus is about the same size as MSU (Montana State University), but it’s a junior college and it’s a lot more compact. It’s just so diverse and the location is perfect.”

Carlson, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker, hadn’t planned on continuing with volleyball in college, but had a change of heart after meeting Jordan.

Assists Leader

Jaiden Blakely will graduate as Belgrade's all-time leader in assists.

“He offered right away and then he was like, ‘you can think about it.’ When I got home I talked to my parents about it,” she said. “They’re like, ‘I like it there.’ Just kind of happened.”

Both Blakely and Carlson cited the location as reasons for choosing the school as well. Pasco is located less than three hours west of Seattle, two hours west of Spokane, and three hours from Portland, Ore.

“I picked it because of the people, coaches and everyone there. It’s a super nice campus,” Carlson, who plans to study dental hygiene, said. “It kind of felt like home when I went there. It was just welcoming and super nice. I loved it.”

Blakely, a 5-foot-9 setter, and Carlson helped Belgrade reach the state Class A championship match for a second consecutive year this past season. The Panthers finished as the state runner up and boasted a 30-4 record.

Blakely earned first team all-conference honors for her effort, while Carlson was a second team selection. Blakely also broke the school record for career assists this past season with 1,955 and tied the mark for assists in a 3-set match with 36.

Both are excited about the opportunity to turn around the program as well as continue to play together in college.

“It’s really exciting just because I know that I’ll have a middle that I click with really well there,” said Blakely, who plans to study human services. “I know quite a few of the girls there and quite a few of the recruits, and I’ve played with them before. Still, Kenna and I have the best connection, especially after playing like five years together.”

Haylee Curry

Haylee Curry slides across home plate en route to scoring a run for Belgrade against Sidney at the state Class A tournament in May. She signed with Carroll College on Tuesday.

Panthers’ Curry signs with Saints to play softball

Haylee Curry has traveled throughout the western portion of the United States competing for her club softball team. But when it came time to choose a college program, the Belgrade senior opted to stay closer to home.

Curry signed a letter of intent Tuesday morning to play for Carroll College. The NAIA program, which is based in Helena, is coming off the best season of its five-year existence.

Curry also looked at schools in Oregon, including Corban University, but remaining in Montana was the best fit.

“I really liked Carroll because I wanted to be close to my parents,” said Curry. “Honestly, when I went on the visit it was amazing. They were so family oriented, they just accepted me in, and I really, really liked that.”

Curry made her official visit in late summer before verbally committing in November.

“I really like the team that they have,” she said. “I stayed in the dorms with some of the teammates. I thought that was super cool and they’re so nice.”

Curry was a first team all-conference selection as a utility player for Belgrade this past season. She helped the Panthers post a 23-2 record en route to winning a second consecutive state Class A championship.

The Panthers hit a program and state record 53 home runs, and Curry had five of those dingers (11 for her career). Throughout the season she saw action at catcher, in the outfield and in the infield.

That versatility is what caught the eye of college coaches, including Carroll’s Aaron Jackson, as she played not only for Belgrade but the Colorado Angels in Denver.

“The coaches were super nice. They came to even my Colorado games,” said Curry. “Like California, Colorado and Oregon, so I thought that was super cool.”

The Saints posted a 28-22 record this past season led by their fifth-year coach. The 28 victories set a new program record, and 10 of the team’s losses were by just one run.

Carroll, which started its program in 2015, is 80-90 under Jackson’s leadership. The Saints were 14-13 this past season in the Cascade Conference and went 0-2 in the Cascade Conference Tournament.

“It’s like a new program. They’re only like five years old,” said Curry. “But I really like how he’s already made it super successful.”

Curry has been recruited as a utility.

“They said they really like me catching,” she said. “But mainly utility, like third and outfield.”

Curry plans to study athletic training and health sciences. But, there is a final season of prep ball remaining as the Panthers take a 21-game win streak into 2019.