One of Tommy Holloran’s favorite lacrosse memories came two years ago in Great Falls. He had been called up to Bozeman’s varsity late in the season and felt he deserved his chance.
During the state championship game, the hard-shooting midfielder caught a pass while on the man-up unit and ripped a shot for a goal.
Connor Patten also remembers the state tournament fondly. Last year, when Bozeman hosted, the lefty attack scored a goal on a behind-the-back shot. Teammates hollered, embraced him and marveled how “sick” the play was, Patten recalled.
Now both senior captains, Holloran and Patten are eyeing a third straight Bozeman title entering this weekend’s state tournament.
“That first year that we won state against (Missoula) Hellgate was kind of a turning point for our whole program I think,” Holloran said. “... Everything kind of came to a new level when we beat them.”
Holloran and Patten are two of Bozeman’s top offensive contributors and both plan to continue playing collegiately at the club level at Arizona and Montana State, respectively. Despite the similarities in their careers, they’ve each carved a distinct style of leadership this spring. The dichotomy has helped balance the one-loss team.
First-year head coach Ben Heisey has implemented new offensive schemes designed to help elevate Bozeman. But asking a two-time defending championship team to adjust hasn’t come without challenges. That’s where Holloran and Patten have pitched in, assisting teammates embrace the change.
“They just keep us focused,” Heisey said. “It's kind of funny, they clash a little bit personality-wise, the two of them, but they kind of offset each other in a good way. They kind of keep each other in check in their own perspectives.”
Holloran often creates his own energy, either beating defenders one-on-one or telling teammates, “Let’s go get it.” Heisey described him as intense and aggressive.
Patten, meanwhile, embraces the cerebral side of the game, excelling by feeding and creating opportunities for others. The natural lefty has quality one-one-one skills, but is at his best when passing and calming down teammates.
“I'm just pulling them aside and just having a few words really helps them,” Patten said. “You can definitely see in practice. Ask them to do something, say 'Yeah, you got it,' pat them on the back and it really helps them.”
The stylistic contrast between the two captains often plays out in practice as Holloran’s rah-rah attitude matches up with Patten’s relaxed nature.
Having the presence of both types of leaders has kept Bozeman on track this season. As Heisey pushes the team to continue improving, he knows he can rely on what those two players will bring each day and how they’ll inspire those around them.
“They'll be at each other just about who's right and who's wrong. Come game time, they're on the same page and work well together and things jell nicely,” Heisey said. “Practice is the time to work out those differences. That's absolutely what they do.”
To start the season, Bozeman lost the opener of a tournament in Boise, Idaho. In early April, the team beat Helena 6-3. Both games caused an awakening.
After the first day of the season-opening tournament, Bozeman beat teams on Day 2 that were better than the team it lost to, Heisey said. Facing better competition than during the regular season opened players’ eyes to the level they could still reach.
From that point on, Bozeman remained steady. In the narrow victory over Helena, Patten scored twice and Holloran once. Heisey saw his team tighten up when tested. But the experience again forced Bozeman to grow.
“We just needed to work as a team more,” Holloran said. “We didn't have any specific conversations other than just work as a team, run our plays, run our systems and we'll do our jobs.”
Heisey’s goal for Bozeman is to reach its full potential, not just become the best team in Montana. But the three-goal win over Helena, amid a season that has featured mostly blowout victories, showed players they needed to perform in every game and up to the standard set by Holloran and Patten.
“That was a turning point for us to refocus and realize that we've got a big season ahead of us,” Holloran said. “We need to channel our energy to winning state.”