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MSUB's Rylee Kane

Senior point guard Rylee Kane of Red Lodge is climbing the career charts for starts and assists in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and for the Montana State Billings women's basketball team.

BILLINGS — Tears equally spurred by frustration and determination began to well in Rylee Kane’s eyes as her arms trembled in supporting the entirety of her body weight.

Her firm grip on the metal playground pull-up bar never wavered, even when the task of nudging her chin above her hands two more times felt impossible.

“I challenged her that if she could do 10 pull-ups then we would go get ice cream afterwards,” her father Troy Kane said. “She got to eight and started crying, but she was just determined to finish. You could tell at a young age that she was a competitor.”

Sure enough, the 7-year-old Rylee willed her way to finish the daunting task. Troy knew that day that his daughter had something special inside of her; a rare, inherent ability to defy adversity and push her limits.

What Troy never could have predicted was that his daughter would grow into one of the most prolific point guards in the history of Montana State Billings women’s basketball.

Thursday night’s stop along a career defined by consistency, toughness, and perseverance, will mark Kane’s 109th start, when the Yellowjackets host Great Northwest Athletic Conference foe Saint Martin’s University at 7 p.m. The Red Lodge native will move to No. 6 among the all-time conference leaders in career starts, and with 10 guaranteed games left on the Yellowjackets’ schedule she figures to wind up third in GNAC history in the category.

It’s a rare feat, with only 20 players in GNAC history having reached 100 career starts. 

What stands out most about Kane’s career is that she has never once missed a start. Her 108 games started in succession marks the second-longest streak in GNAC history, and only four players have recorded a streak of 100-plus consecutive starts.

There have been bumps and bruises along the way, a wrapped right arm and a nearly swollen shut black eye among the scares that threatened to hold her out of the starting lineup. Kane is one of just two players in the history of the GNAC to have started 100 percent of her team’s games during a four-year career. The Yellowjackets would need a run of eight postseason games for Kane to have a chance to tie the all-time record of 126 consecutive starts, held by Rebecca Kielpinski of the University of Alaska Anchorage, who is the only other four-year GNAC player to start 100 percent of her team’s games.

“Not unless our athletic trainer told me she was hurt too badly to start,” said MSUB coach Kevin Woodin when asked if he recalled a time Kane’s status was in question. “Rylee was never going to tell me that she was too hurt to play.”

During Kane’s sophomore year, the Yellowjackets achieved a second-place finish at the GNAC Championships and made a return to the NCAA regional championships.

One of MSUB’s key wins to reach the conference tournament that year came in the form of a 74-55 triumph at Northwest Nazarene the week before the championships. Kane got tangled up in a scrum for the ball, and had to be immediately removed from the action after having her face smashed into the hardwood.

The Jackets earned the victory, but Kane emerged with a gash above her left eye and a bruise that prevented normal vision the following day. “We went into halftime of that game and (assistant coach) Jenny (Heringer) challenged us to do something to prove we were trying our hardest,” Kane remembered. “I dove after a loose ball and the other girl basically sat on my head. I thought I had broken my nose.”

It took constant icing, a trip to the emergency room for stitches, and adhesive strips to secure Kane’s eyelid to keep it open, but she and MSUB athletic trainer Lindsay Sullivan found a way to have her game-ready by tipoff at Central Washington two nights later.

“Lindsay has been a huge key to everything, and it still amazes me that I’ve been able to start every game,” Kane said. “I’ve had all kinds of weird minor injuries, but she has been a big help in keeping me healthy enough to play.”

The black eye remains as the closest Kane came to missing a start. 

Kane’s 165 career steals are the ninth most in MSUB history, and she has 41 blocked shots. 

Entering Thursday’s game, Kane is No. 3 in MSUB history and No. 8 in GNAC history with 485 assists. Her career-high of 13 assists came on Feb. 23, 2017 against Central Washington, and stands as the MSUB single-game record. She has a current streak of at least one assist in each of her last 86 games, and she has had zero assists only three times in her 108 total career games.

Among the 18 teammates Kane has had who averaged more than 4.0 minutes per game during her career, Kane has had at least one assist to 17 of them.

Her most consistent target along the way has been senior Alisha Breen of Choteau, who has converted a bucket 88 times on a dish from Kane. “We read off each other really well, and it’s hard to find someone that you’re as comfortable with on the court as you are with her,” Kane said. 

The connection between Kane and Breen has come naturally, and thanks to each of them averaging more than 31 minutes per game over the last four years. Breen is No. 6 in GNAC history with 3,522 minutes played, while Kane is No. 8 at 3,363.

No matter the adversity that has been flung into her path, Kane has always found a way to pull herself up time and time again, and make it happen.