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When Cass Bauer finished her outstanding basketball career at Montana State in 1994, she had a choice - go overseas to play professionally or move on with her life.

It is the same choice generations of women's college basketball players made before her.

Bauer - who led the Bobcats to their first Big Sky championship, still holds several single game records and is in the top 10 in almost every category - decided to play in France.

It was a bad move.

&#8220It just wasn't for me," she said. &#8220At that time in my life I wasn't ready for it."

So she returned to Bozeman and finished her degree in nursing, ready to make a life for herself off the court.

Bauer, who goes by Bauer-Bilodeau after marrying hockey player Brent Bilodeau in 2000, was in training at Deaconess Hospital in Billings in 1996 when the American Basketball League formed as the first professional women's league. Suddenly the 6-foot-4 post had a second chance at a pro career.

In May 1996, Bauer-Bilodeau went to Atlanta for the ABL tryouts - after submitting a &#8220basketball resume" and receiving an invitation from the league.

Prospective players were divided into three groups based on the likelihood of getting drafted. Bauer-Bilodeau was in the second group, which went during the middle of the week-long tryout.

&#8220We had three sessions a day," she said. &#8220It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done."

Bauer-Bilodeau survived round after round of cuts, eventually getting slotted into the top 50.

On draft day that June, the Columbus Quest selected her in the fifth round. Just like that, the basketball career she had written off two years ago had a heartbeat.

The only problem was, so did her nursing career.

&#8220My nursing really went on the back burner at that point," said Bauer-Bilodeau from her current home in Las Vegas. &#8220The day I got drafted I ended up quitting my job because it wasn't really fair for them to keep training me for two more months when they weren't going to be able to use me."

Bauer-Bilodeau packed up and moved to Columbus, Ohio, to begin training for the ABL's inaugural season. The fledgling league had eight teams and would play during the fall, winter and spring months, mirroring the NBA.

The Bobcats' leading scorer, Bauer-Bilodeau made the transition to scrappy role player.

&#8220I went in there and sacrificed my body and did some things they needed me to do," she said. &#8220That's how I was able to stay in the league. I think I outworked most of the people on my team because I had to in order to stay in it."

That first year was a good one for Bauer-Bilodeau and the Quest. Columbus won the ABL title over the Richmond Rage, and single Cass Bauer met single Brent Bilodeau in a Chicago sports bar during Thanksgiving break.

Bauer was in town visiting her sister, Emily. Bilodeau was in town on a minor league hockey road trip. By chance, they were staying at the same hotel and met in the bar downstairs.

The two began a courtship that culminated in marriage in 2000.

Before that, though, Bauer-Bilodeau would bounce around pro basketball. Columbus released her and Long Beach signed her. The StingRays and Quest played for the second ABL championship. Columbus won in five games.

There would not be a third ABL champion.

The NBA, seeing the moderate success of the ABL and hoping to cash in on the growing popularity of women's team sports - the U.S. soccer and basketball teams won gold in the Atlanta Olympics - formed the WNBA to start play in 1997, just before the ABL's second season was to tip off.

Now there were two women's leagues and not enough fan dollars to support both. Backed by the deep pockets of NBA owners, the WNBA quickly and decisively won the war.

The Long Beach franchise folded before the start of the ABL's third season. Bauer-Bilodeau was reassigned by the league to Philadelphia.

&#8220On Dec. 23, when I was home for Christmas, we found out the league had gone bankrupt," she said. &#8220I didn't know if my basketball was going to be over."

In the wake of the ABL bankruptcy, Bauer-Bilodeau couldn't let the dream die yet again. She went to Hungary for three months to keep playing, and soon the New York Liberty called her in for a tryout.

That didn't pan out, but the Charlotte Sting signed her, and Bauer-Bilodeau was in the WNBA.

She saw limited playing time that first season, 1999, but started the next year in Charlotte.

&#8220I was thankful to be playing," she said. &#8220It seemed like with my basketball career I would get somewhere, I would get established then I would be going somewhere else."

That pattern held true. After two seasons with the Sting, Bauer-Bilodeau was unexpectedly traded to Washington for the 2001 season.

She was traded again the next season, this time to Sacramento and a reunion with former Long Beach coach Maura McHugh and a group of ex-teammates.

&#8220That was really my final hurrah," she said. &#8220I knew I was going to be done that year. I contemplated retiring the whole year because my knee was so bad."

Having already undergone two surgeries on her right knee, Bauer-Bilodeau was down to bone-on-bone grinding by the end of the 2002 season.

&#8220Any time I played my knee would feel like it was on fire and it would swell up huge because there was so much friction in there. My quality of life wasn't that good."

Bauer-Bilodeau tried to give it a go in 2003, but hung it up during training camp. Since then she has only picked up a basketball once.

&#8220That was for the Big Sky State Games in 2003," she said. &#8220I played three games in two days. The next day I was supposed to work and I couldn't go because I couldn't walk.

&#8220I said, 'that's it for me.'"

Bauer-Bilodeau resumed her nursing career after the ABL folded. The WNBA season runs for only three months, allowing ample time to work and train.

After the Bilodeaus married in 2000, they would live in whatever city Brent was playing in during the hockey season - he bounced around seven different cities after they met in Chicago - and whatever city Cass was playing in during the summer WNBA season.

Today, Cass is a critical care nurse in Las Vegas, where Brent is an assistant coach with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL. They are the parents of 19-month-old twins, who already stand 3-feet tall.

&#8220I imagine we'll be here for a couple of years and hopefully (Brent) can move and be a head coach somewhere," Cass said. &#8220That's kind of what your goal is. It isn't our final destination. Who knows where life will take us."

Bauer-Bilodeau, who grew up in Hysham, returns to Montana frequently - the family has summered in Billings the last two years - and is disappointed in herself that she hasn't been more involved with the MSU program.

&#8220My life has been so chaotic, moving here and there … I would love to come back and watch Montana State play," she said. &#8220(MSU head coach) Trish (Binford) asked me to maybe do some things there. I would love to be involved with that.

&#8220Eventually Brent and I would both like to be in Montana. But with him as a coach I don't know if we'll ever get there."

Binford's and Bauer-Bilodeau's Big Sky careers overlapped, and they played against each other in the WNBA.

Bauer-Bilodeau's fondest memory at MSU was the coin flip that gave the Bobcats the right to host the conference tournament in 1993. The 'Cats had just beaten Montana in the last game of the regular season to finish in a tie with the Griz.

Then head coach Judy Spoelstra asked her team what she should call.

&#8220Tails never fails!" was the response. The Bobcats won the toss and won the tournament, advancing to the NCAAs for the first time in school history.

&#8220That was a huge turn for Montana State basketball," Bauer-Bilodeau said.

After such a successful college career and her willingness to crisscross the country to continue playing professionally, you might think Bauer-Bilodeau would be tempted to stay in the game as a coach, much like her husband has with hockey.

&#8220I'm pretty aggressive, so I think the girls would probably hate me," she said. &#8220I would expect a lot and I just don't think I have the patience for it."

Plus, having two coaches in the family might not make for the best home life for the Bilodeau children.

So, at least for the foreseeable future, basketball is no longer a part of Cass Bauer-Bilodeau's life. And unlike 1994, she's fine with that now.

&#8220Being from Montana State, and defying every odd to play that many years of professional basketball, I figured I'd fooled people enough," she said with a laugh. &#8220It was time to be done and move on to the next area of my life."

How long Bauer-Bilodeau stays away from the game is anyone's guess. But if those 3-foot-tall, 19-month-old twins keep growing, she'll probably be back in it soon enough.

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