By Kim Staudinger
They've played in sports together since elementary school. Now six Chester seniors will soon have to say goodbye.
Before they do, they have one more mission to accomplish a state championship in volleyball.
The six girls Jamie Graham, Heidi Cicon, Michele VanDyke, Chasi Buffington, Maci Tempel and Katy Engstrom are coming off a state championship basketball season, capped off with the girls' 100th win in four seasons. They have hopes of doing the same on the volleyball floor.
"Right after the basketball season we thought, Let's just keep it going,'" Graham said.
The girls placed third at last year's Class C state volleyball tournament and have all but one player returning from that team.
"It's the greatest feeling in the whole world," Tempel said about winning a state championship. "I'd give anything to do that again. Nothing beats winning state your senior year. All the drills, all the hours of practice, it all pays off."
Said Graham, who will be playing basketball at Rocky Mountain College next fall along with Tempel, "It wasn't just this year. Pretty much the last seven or eight years of our lives accumulated into that moment. It wasn't just that we won this year. All those years of hard work finally paid off."
The girls know another state title will be difficult.
"We've got a long way to go," Cicon said. "We're going to have to work pretty hard. But it was so fun to win state this year. If we can do it in two sports, it would be neat."
All the girls said they expect Harlowton to be their toughest competition, a team they lost to in last year's state tournament.
"If it works out right, hopefully we can play them in the championship game," Cicon said. "They have pretty good players. It would be fun."
Last year Harlowton came up to Chester to play because a Chester game with another team had been canceled. Each of Harlowton's players stayed at the home of a Chester player. The girls got to know each other, and after the game the community had a potluck dinner for the teams.
The Chester girls have been playing basketball together since grade school and have traveled to tournaments around the state.
Tempel recalls a favorite activity, one she thinks is a reason the team members are so close now.
"Every morning at like 7:30 we used to all go in the gym in like fifth and sixth grades and we would scrimmage anyone who would show up," she said. "Through snow, through rain, we were there." Even the boys would come in and play.
To this day the girls still go to the gym in the mornings two times a week to scrimmage. The constant contact has created a sense of unity.
"We're like a family," said VanDyke, who has signed to played basketball for the University of Montana next fall. "We've been through good times and been through bad times. We have a lot of good memories. We always have fun at what we do."
The "sisters," as they call themselves, have developed a type of communication on the court that could confuse anyone.
"We've been playing together for so long, you know where everyone's going to be on the court," Buffington said. "It makes it a lot easier to play. You can kind of look at a person and know which direction they will be going and when, so you know when to give them the ball."
Said Tempel, "It's terrible, especially in sports. You give one person a look and they know. We can read each other's minds pretty much. We know every look each other has and everything."
Unlike most teenage girls, these six do not fight with each other.
"We've always had just kind of a special togetherness. It's kind of unique," Graham said. "We've never been really jealous of each other or really competitive of each other. We've all been good friends. We have an understanding of each other."
It's an understanding that allows each girl to tell the others exactly what is on her mind. Each girl said she can give the others constructive criticism without fear of them getting mad. They take the criticism and use it as a way to improve.
"Thinking back and looking at the younger girls now, I can't believe we went through all that time without fighting," Tempel said. "We don't bring things on the court. We've never taken anything on the court. On the court it doesn't matter. Everyone has their days, but you just kind of leave them alone for a while. We've never really fought and I wouldn't really want to either."
Cicon agreed. "Usually girls get sick of each other and have fights and stuff. We never did that. It's kind of cool. Even if we did have little petty problems that came up, we didn't bring that on the court. We never thought of it. Once you get on the court, you're buds and it doesn't matter."
That belief isn't due just to the fact that the girls get along so well. Buffington said it came from Jamie Graham's dad, Jim.
"We had a lot of (bad) examples when we were younger," Buffington said. "Jamie's dad told us we better not grow up to be like those girls because we wouldn't get accomplished what we want to."
The special relationship the girls share is evident on the court. As a habit, whenever one girl comes out of a game, each player on the bench stands to greet her. The player subbing in takes her a towel so the player coming out can pass along information about the player she's guarding.
Each towel has a word etched on it by Cicon's mom. Cicon said some towels have a name on them, while others have different inspirational words.
Nothing can prepare these six for the months ahead when they will have to say goodbye and head off to college.
"They're my girls," Graham said. "It's going to be crazy without them. We've been through so much together. Sports have brought us so close."
Said Buffington: "They're my family and I love them with all my heart and I am going to miss them."
The girls have a few weeks of volleyball left plenty of time to create more memories.
"The halls the whole week after we won state, there was no way anyone could have had a frown on their face," Tempel said.