Missoula Sentinel juniors Kylie Frolich (left) and Jordyn Schweyen pose in Lady Griz uniforms after verbally committing to play for Montana (Courtesy: Karen Deden)

STORY BY MONTANA SPORTS INFORMATION

MISSOULA – The concept of six degrees of separation is not required to connect this group, not the four future Lady Griz who signed National Letters of Intent this week during the NCAA’s early signing period.

Not when two have been teammates since the third grade, both set to become second-generation Griz athletes. Not for the chest-pounding guard who became their AAU teammate, later to join the fourth signee on a summer team, herself the younger sister of a former Montana men’s basketball player.

It makes for a most unique class, the second for Shannon Schweyen as a head coach, though she has been around the program to see more than two dozen new groups arrive on campus.

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“It’s pretty fascinating, all the little connections that they have in roundabout ways,” she said. “It’s a very exciting group and probably one of the better classes we’ve signed. It has a little bit of everything.”

Joining Montana next season will be Jordyn Schweyen and Kylie Frohlich of Missoula, Katie Mayhue of Albany, Ore., and Carmen Gfeller of Colfax, Wash., each with her own story but none that can be told without a connection to the others.

“Katie has the potential to play anything from the one to the three. Kylie is a proven scorer and a blue-collar worker who plays bigger than she is, and Carmen is really versatile. She’s a big, strong girl who can handle and shoot it and score in the post,” said Schweyen.

“Jordyn has moved around a bunch in high school. She started in the post. She moved to the wing the next year and has played the point. She’s done a little bit of everything.”

The first two to commit, in June, were Schweyen and Frohlich, both six feet, and why wouldn’t they do one more thing together, friends and teammates as they’ve been since the third grade?

Their moms — Shannon (Cate) Schweyen and Colleen (Jantz) Frohlich — were both Griz athletes, their four years on the Missoula campus coinciding from start to finish, the former an all-America basketball player, the latter an all-Big Sky Conference volleyball player.

Both would become Montana assistant coaches in the 1990s following their playing careers, Schweyen under Robin Selvig, whom she would replace in 2016 after 24 seasons on staff, Frohlich under Dick Scott, whom she replaced on an interim basis midway through the 1999 season, her final as a Grizzly.

Their daughters both made official visits on the same weekend five months ago, together but also independently of one another. Schweyen wasn’t expecting to get a commitment out of either one of them that day. Instead she got two.

“It was interesting. We brought them (into my office) separately to talk about the opportunity. Jordyn came in first while Kylie was at an academic meeting,” said Schweyen. “We didn’t anticipate her committing, but at the end of it she stood up and said, ‘I want to be a Lady Griz.’ ”

It was such a surprising turn of events that Brian Schweyen, Montana’s track and field head coach, and a husband and father, wasn’t even present. That’s how unexpected it was.

“I had always hoped Jordyn would want to be a Lady Griz, so it was pretty emotional for me,” said Schweyen.

The two future Lady Griz first became teammates in the third grade, a connection broken only for two years when Colleen Frohlich moved her family back to her hometown of Coeur d’Alene to take over the volleyball program at North Idaho College.

These days, playing together at Sentinel High School, they led the Spartans to last year’s Class AA volleyball state championship — they’ll be going for two straight beginning on Thursday in Bozeman — and a runner-up finish in basketball in March.

Before the two could attempt a senior-year sweep of volleyball, basketball and track and field — Schweyen competes in the jumps, Frohlich finished third in the javelin at May’s state meet — the Frohlichs had their turn in Schweyen’s office, not knowing Jordyn had committed just minutes earlier.

“I remember walking into Shannon’s office and thinking about my visit and the Missoula community,” said Frohlich. “I made up my mind that this is where I was meant to be and that this is where I wanted to go. I knew I was ready and didn’t want to wait anymore.

“Shannon opened the door and Jordyn came in and told me she committed too.”

Her daughter’s commitment put an end to an interesting few years for Schweyen, a coach with a daughter who had talent. Was she seeing her daughter objectively when Jordyn was on the court, as a coach would, or was she watching her as a parent, evaluating her with rose-colored glasses?

Schweyen has watched and appraised hundreds of players during her coaching career. But it’s different when it’s your own daughter.

She saw what she needed to see a few years ago at a Lady Griz summer camp, when her daughter went one-on-one against some of Montana’s then incoming freshmen, players who are in their third year now.

“Jordyn was playing some of those kids and she was swatting their shots out of the air and defending the heck out of them. It was kind of that moment when I watched her and thought, these girls can’t score on her,” said Schweyen.

“She learned early on to take pride in her defense. She knew that was an area that could set you apart from other players.”

Further proof arrived as Jordyn’s summers became filled with AAU tournaments. She caught coaches’ eyes, and they began reaching out. By that point, it became a traditional recruitment. The coach selling her program, the player listening and playing it cool, her cards tight against the vest.

“She was getting interest from other schools, but she didn’t talk about it a lot to us or share much,” said Schweyen. “Knowing how things work, we had to make offers to other kids as well. If somebody else took it, it was gone.

“I was just elated the day she decided she wanted to be here. Being a coach, I’ve missed out on a lot of her games, maybe half of them, so I’m thrilled I get a chance to watch her develop and grow as a collegiate player.”

It was an interesting time for the younger Schweyen as well. Raised in Missoula, her entire life has been spent around the Lady Griz program and Grizzly athletics. Did that make it the easiest decision she’s ever had to make or the most difficult?

“It was more in between. The University of Montana was all I knew when it came to colleges and college campuses,” she said. “People always told me it was one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, but I never had anything to compare it to.”

Despite the interest, she never did take any other official visits. “There was no point. I knew this is where I wanted to be. My mom has never coached me on a team, only as an individual, so that’s going to be new for both of us. It might take some time for both of us to adapt to that difference.”

Frohlich will bring to the court an approach that will be like catnip to the dedicated Lady Griz faithful, who appreciate the understated as much as they do a behind-the-back pass. She will be the yin to Mayhue’s yang among next season’s freshmen.

Frohlich earned all-state honors as a junior after averaging 10 points and a state-leading 9.5 rebounds.

“Kylie plays bigger than she is. She’s six feet tall, but she’s crafty in the post with a really good feel. Some kids are big but don’t really have a feel down there. She’s got a great feel,” said Schweyen. “And she’s one of those kids who goes after every rebound, and you love to have that.”

And then there is Mayhue, 5-foot-10, whose tale can best be described as cautionary. Coming out of Casper, Wyo., she joined Schweyen and Frohlich on the Montana-Idaho-Wyoming team of the Northwest Blazers following the group’s freshman year of high school.

They wouldn’t be teammates for long. “Katie kind of blew up the scene that year,” said Schweyen. But the bond of the players’ friendship would last.

In the spring following her sophomore year, she received an offer from Oregon State, which was coming off a trip to the Final Four. Heady stuff. She committed, and the Mayhues — her parents and her two brothers — moved west to Albany, outside of Corvallis, to be a part of it.

Mayhue played last winter for South Albany High. Last summer she made the Adidas USA Select team that played in Italy, its roster made up entirely of Division I commits, Oklahoma, Arizona, Florida State, Alabama and Oklahoma State among them.

A month ago, in early October, Mayhue was informed she no longer had a spot at Oregon State. With her world now upside down, a month from signing day, she reached out to her friends.

“I knew there was no time to sit around and pout about it, so I texted Jordyn and asked if I could have her mom’s number,” said Mayhue.

For as difficult as early October was for Mayhue, it was just as challenging for Schweyen. Kayleigh Valley reinjured her knee and would be lost for the season, and Alycia Harris had to medically retire. Mayhue’s phone call was just what the coach needed.

“It was shortly after Kayleigh had done her knee, and I was still getting over the fact we were losing her,” said Schweyen. “I woke up one morning with a pit in my stomach and Jordyn goes, ‘Mom, Katie Mayhue is going to call you.’ It definitely helped make my day a little bit better.”

A week later the Mayhues were in Missoula, on Homecoming weekend, which doubled as the grand opening of the Washington-Grizzly Champions Center, the perfect recruiting opportunity to win over the player who would become commit No. 4.

Schweyen spent the next several days with her fingers crossed, but the text she was hoping to receive from Mayhue, pledging her commitment to the Lady Griz, failed to arrive. That’s because what she was waiting for wasn’t coming electronically. It would be arriving at the speed of mail.

The picture frame, filled with photos of Missoula and campus, plus Mayhue’s note of appreciation for the opportunity and her commitment to the program, arrived later the next week.

“I loved it,” Mayhue said of her visit. “The facilities are amazing. The PT program is out of this world. The community is crazy about the Grizzlies. I don’t even know how to explain it. I was just in awe the whole time.”

If her skillset gets Dahlberg Arena buzzing — “She’s a complete guard,” said Schweyen. “She’s explosive, she’s a good passer, she’s got a great dribble jumper, she shoots the three.” — the rest of her game will electrify it.

“I would describe her as one of the most passionate players I’ve seen,” said Schweyen. “She loves to play and plays with a ton of heart.

“It was unfortunate for her things didn’t work out but it’s extremely fortunate for us with what she’s going to bring to the Lady Griz. We’re excited to have a player of her caliber join our program.”

After moving from Wyoming to Oregon and joining the Northwest Blazers’ top-level Orange team, Mayhue became teammates with Gfeller, who herself will be going for a state volleyball championship this week in Yakima.

Gfeller’s route to Montana was more like Schweyen’s and Frohlich’s than Mayhue’s. As the younger sister of Brandon Gfeller, who wrapped up his Griz playing career last season, she was making trips to Missoula, to campus and to Dahlberg Arena well before she became a talked-about prospect.

“At the time I wasn’t really informed, but once he started going to school at Montana, I realized what a great school it was,” Gfeller said. “It was a good school with successful teams, and there was an awesome crowd every game. That balance really stuck out to me.”

After Gfeller, who is 6-foot-1, chose basketball over volleyball as her sport of choice at the college level and began playing on a more high-profile summer team, her stock skyrocketed. She made a visit to Montana, but it would be one of the first of many she made across the western U.S.

“When she took her visit, it was a great visit but it was really early in the process. She still took several more,” said Schweyen. “It was one of those things where you hope they don’t forget what a great time they had.”

Gfeller admits that her eyes wandered after visiting Montana, attracted by the bright lights. Some of the schools had higher Q Ratings. The names of some of the conferences were more recognizable, some of the facilities a little more glamorous.

Brandon played a role, but it was more as older brother than Griz spokesman, guide rather than recruiter.

“He was always really supportive. I’d tell him about a school, and he’d ask me what I liked and what I didn’t like,” Gfeller said. “He never really compared any school to Montana. He wanted it to be my decision, and he was going to be all for it, no matter where I ended up.”

In August, two months after Schweyen and Frohlich committed and two months before Mayhue would do the same, Gfeller came to a decision. She may have been tempted by other schools, but “Montana had everything you could ask for,” she said.

“As I went on other visits, I kind of went away from what I was truly looking for in a school. A strong team, strong academic programs and a consistency with the coaches. You don’t get that everywhere you go. Montana had that in every aspect. They had exactly what I was looking for.”

And so they’re all signed, all committed, all excited, all ready to go. Of course there are more pressing concerns in their immediate futures, like state championships in various sports, but soon enough next fall will arrive. And when it does, it will just feel like … old times?

“I’ve played with Katie and Kylie, and Katie and Carmen have played together, so it feels like we’ve all played together already in some way,” said Schweyen.

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