I can remember Ali Hurley’s career as if she were a daughter of my own. It was one that turned an 11-11 record team in the Central A when she was an eighth-grader into one of the most impressive four-year prep campaigns in Montana girls’ basketball history.
A national Elks Hoop Shoot champion in her adolescence as a 13-year-old in 2002 — a title which included a 25-for-25 performance that earned her the Getty Powell Award given to the best overall female shooter regardless of age — was just the beginning of the star-studded career the quiet, unassuming, kind youngster would have.
It just so happened that when Hurley entered high school, it also signaled the move to the Southwestern A Conference for the Copperhead girls’ and boys’ basketball programs. It turned out to be bad news for the rest of the conference for years to come.
Hurley and her teams never lost a Southwestern A game, recording a perfect 48-0 mark (the record is 56-games lost to Hamilton in 2009) including the first four- of seven-consecutive SW-A girls’ basketball championships for the school. That her teams held a 31-1 record at Memorial Gymnasium during her prep years is almost an after thought.
Hurley, although she didn’t start her freshman year, led the team in scoring every year. In fact, her 20.96 points/game scoring average is the highest in school history, beating out her uncle, Rob Hurley, with 20.69 ppg.
But the true measure of her sustained greatness as a four-time Class A All-State and Super State (Great Falls Tribune) player and three-time SW-A Most Valuable Player is her place in Anaconda High School scoring history. Even though Hurley playing into the fourth quarter was usually never warranted or allowed by head coach Maury Cook, she still managed a school-record 1,698 points, surpassing Ed Kalafat’s 50-year reign on top of the list with a 22-point performance against Butte Central on Feb. 16, 2008 — the final regular-season game of her career. (This was the program from that night ali insert – color)
Hurley capped her career that year on top, ending a 35-year state championship drought by leading the Copperheads to a 49-34 win over Glendive on Saturday, March 8, 2008 at Dale Berry Court in Hamilton. She led the team with a 6-for-13 shooting performance, including 7-of-9 from the free throw line, for 20 points. Due to her efforts, she was awarded the Class A State Tournament MVP honor. It was a fitting ending to a storied prep career.
That led her to the University of Montana and a spot on legendary head coach Robin Selvig’s bench. After a redshirt in her first year with the team, Hurley has played in 105 of 117 games for the Lady Griz leading up to Thursday night’s Senior Night at Dahlberg Arena.
Although her career isn’t quite what she envisioned, Hurley has been an inspiration in so many other ways. (See this great story by Missoulian columnist and Lady Griz beat writer Bill Speltz in December) It just so happens Hurley may be more important than she leads on. Her teammates adore her and depend on her for moral support, not to mention being the fabric of an all-for-one, one-for-all approach on and off the floor. And although the early years were tough, including sporadic playing time and various position and role changes, Hurley has overcome adversity and thrived. She is a rock of a teammate — one who Torry Hill, a former Copperhead teammate as well, still credits for easing her into the role of student-athlete when she joined the Lady Griz two years after Ali arrived.
If the mark of an athlete is leaving the place better than when they arrived, then Hurley has exceeded every lofty expectation put on her. She’s played in four Big Sky tournaments and advanced to one NCAA tournament her sophomore season, a loss to UCLA in the regional played in Spokane, Wash. This year, she’s an important cog off the bench for the first-place Lady Griz heading into her Senior Night against Southern Utah.
Although she’s not looking past the season or the end of her career, she admits it’s all coming a little too quickly. “I can’t believe it’s all ending,” she told me during a halftime interview at the Southwestern A boys’ and girls’ basketball tournament this past weekend in Butte. “I seems like just yesterday I was playing for Anaconda. It’s all gone by so fast.”
When it all does end, Hurley can look back and have zero regrets. She’s been a part of the largest girls’ basketball game ever in Montana, a then No. 1 vs. No. 1 showdown versus Class AA Butte High and Class A Anaconda in the Civic Center on Feb. 8, 2008 — which announced a 4,072 attendance afterwards — was a McDonald’s All-American award winner and a girl who earned a spot in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces In The Crowd” March 24, 2008 edition. But that only scratches the surface of what she means to Anaconda.
Balancing athletics and academics in college is tough enough, but this year she will graduate with honors and has been accepted to several law schools around the country begging for her to become part of their university.
It’s been my humble pleasure getting to know Ali as an awkward teen who couldn’t give an interview without calling herself names, seeing her blossom on the Snake Pit court wearing “ANACONDA” across her chest alongside some of the most respected teammates and young women the school has educated, not to mention following her collegiate career probably a little too closely. Why? Because under her athletic exterior lies a sweet young woman — one who I can only hope my own daughter will emulate some day.
Thursday will be a special night for me. I’m bringing as many family members as I can to celebrate Hurley’s career. As she walks to the center of the court with her mother, Tammy, and brother, Tyler, it will be tough holding it all in. I’ll be remembering all the good times — her state title as captain in 2008, her second-place finish to Lewistown as a freshman in 2005 at Dale Berry Court in Hamilton and her allowing me to be present as she signed her collegiate letter of intent to join the Lady Griz before her senior season.
We’ve all been lucky to have such a special person represent our community, and I can’t think of a word to say to her for all she’s done. “Thanks” just doesn’t cut it. Maybe, in time, I can think of something.
(In the meantime, here’s a bit of a picture tour of Ali from her Copperhead days up through her time in Missoula. Congrats kiddo! Thanks for the ride!)