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9C Tournament Extra: Ella Billmayer proud to be part of Turner's Sister Act

Turner senior says the Tornadoes are one big family


February 16, 2017

Colin Thompson

Turner senior Ella Billmayer handles the ball during Wednesday's District 9C girls game against Chinook at the HHS gymnasium. Billmayer has been playing for the Tornadoes since eighth grade, and she is part of a trio of sisters who have helped revive girls basketball in the tiny north central Montana community.

When it comes to Turner girls basketball, it truly has become a family affair. During this District 9C girls basketball tournament, Turner has three sets of sisters playing on what has been the most successful Turner team in more than a decade.

Five years ago however, it was a different story. Turner was struggling to just field a basketball team, and was not that far removed from when the Tornadoes were unable to play a varsity schedule.

That’s the Turner girls basketball program senior Ella Billmayer stepped into as an eighth-grader. Billmayer, now a senior, playing in her fifth 9C tourney, which started with a heartbreaking loss to Chinook Wednesday at the HHS gymnasium, wasn’t the first eighth-grader to play in the 9C, but her presence and her passion for basketball certainly helped jump-start a revival in Turner.

“When I watch film from when I was in eighth grade, it’s so different now,” Billmayer said. “We’ve come a long way. A long way. And it’s not just me, it’s everyone. We’ve done this together.”

Together doesn’t begin to describe the Turner girls basketball team. Billmayer is joined by her younger sister, sophomore Sarah, who is already playing in her third 9C tourney. Fellow senior Rennay Watkins has played with her sister, sophomore Melanie, for three years now, and the Conlan sisters, Rylee and Raegan, have not only played together for three years, but have also played with their older sister as well.

And that’s why Turner is more than just a team, the Tornadoes are a very big family.

“We’re all a family,” Billmayer, who was voted All-Conference a season ago, said. “It’s not just sets of sisters, we are all in this together. We’re one big family, and it’s helped make us a better team, and a better program.”

Of course, sisters argue. That’s a fact of life, and Turner’s sisters are no different. But part of any arguments that may take place is also because of how competitive the girls are. They have helped return Turner to being a strong 9C basketball team, and anything that may be worth arguing about, is also what makes Turner so unique, and so special.

“Definitely,” Billmayer said when asked if there are sisterly disagreements. “On the floor, in practice, in school. We have our moments for sure. But we also have each other’s backs. We believe in each other and we care about each other.”

That’s easy to see. Turner plays with a bond few teams in this week’s 9C tournament can understand. It’s true, most 9C teams are tightly bonded because communities like Chinook, Kremlin, Chester, Box Elder, Hays and others are small communities where closeness is a way of life. But Turner’s girls basketball team is uniquely different. That bond just doesn’t come with a tight-knit community, which Turner certainly is, it’s a bond that comes from blood, from family, and that makes playing for the Tornadoes very special.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Billmayer said. “This team is so special. I wouldn’t want to play for any other team.”

A year from now, Billmayer won’t be playing for the Tornadoes anymore. She’s graduating, after five years of playing varsity basketball. But she and her Tornadoes have some unfinished business. Turner, over the last two seasons, has won 22 games, and the Tornadoes won their first 9C tournament game in nine years at last year’s 9C. This season, the Tornadoes have won 10 games and the goal was, and still is, to make it to Great Falls, and the Northern C Divisional, a place a Turner team hasn’t been to in a long, long time.

And even with Wednesday’s setback against Chinook. That’s still the goal. It’s the goal for Billmayer, who isn’t quite ready to be done playing with her sisters, all of them.

“We just have to go out and play with heart,” she said. “That’s what we always do. But whether we make it or not, I’m still so proud of this team. I’m proud of everyone on this team. I love them all, and it’s been the best experience of my life playing with these girls.”


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