MISSOULA – After a quick glance, you could think the Montana Lady Grizzlies are facing another rough season. One year after one of the worst records in program history, Montana has started 0-5. But if you start watching for a while, you’ll see a ton of improvement.
Montana has played an extremely tough schedule. The Lady Griz hung tough with strong teams Wyoming and Gonzaga and even held their own against nationally ranked Kentucky and Marquette. Montana was tied with the Wildcats at half, and after a rough start, out-scored the Golden Eagles in the second half.
So even though the wins haven’t come yet, the difference between last year and this year is so vast it’s comical.
“We watch film from last year and we kind of laugh at it. We’re like, ‘Wow. That was kind of bad,'” admitted sophomore guard Madi Schoening. “I think we’re just starting to pick up kind of where we left off last season, so starting that much earlier is going to help us when we get closer to conference.”
“The big telling point is when we throw on video from last year and we watch, and we go, ‘Oh my goodness,'” echoed head coach Shannon Schweyen. “I just think defensively we’re so much smarter. We’re distributing among each other. It’s great to see Jace Henderson come alive. That’s been a big bonus to get some scoring on the interior.”
Henderson, a junior forward, played only 12 minutes per game last year. But now as a starter, she’s averaging nine points and seven rebounds a night.
Montana is keeping its confidence up and finding ways to compete by looking for silver linings during the difficult start. For example, after falling behind 44-24 in the first half versus Marquette in their last game at the Cancun Challenge last week, the Lady Griz set a goal to beat the Golden Eagles in the second half. They reached their goal, and had perhaps their best offensive half of the season.
“Yeah, maybe overall we lost the game, but we take the little victories and try to point those out and see, because these are big teams and they’re highly ranked,” said Schoening. “So when we come to conference we’re hopefully going to be able to play through the whole game.”
“Obviously I would have liked to have won one of those games or been closer in those, but I’m very encouraged by what the girls are doing,” said Schweyen. “They’re playing good defense. They’re playing their hearts out. We’ve commented a ton about, what we want to be doing at the end of the day is making sure we leave it all out there on the court, and we’re getting better every day. And I truly feel like this group is doing that.”
Montana will also get a boost as last year’s leading scorer, Taylor Goligoski, continues to return to full health. She missed the first two games with a quad injury.
UM could have a good shot at its first wins at the 37th Lady Griz Classic. Montana hosts Cal State Fullerton (2-4) on Friday and Long Beach State (0-5) on Saturday.