MISSOULA – It’s a big jump from the high school game to the college court. Freshmen find that out pretty quickly, but a couple of the newcomers are starting to play a big role at Montana, for both the 2-0 Grizzlies and Lady Griz.
Montana expected a contribution from Timmy Falls, a highly rated recruit out of Dublin, Calif., but it took a while for the 6-foot-2 guard to settle in.
He scored only 12 points over the Grizzlies’ first 10 games. Then Falls took off with 14 points versus UC Irvine, and he’s found a way to provide a spark and highlight-reel worthy assists ever since.
“It was kind of hard at first,” admitted Falls. “I didn’t really know my place, was kind of nervous. But started to get my groove back I think. I found my role on the team, coming off the bench.”
“I’ve never had a freshman that it’s been easy for,” said head coach Travis DeCuire. “The pace of the game, the strength. He just had to find a way to keep fighting, keep fighting, and figure it out. Now he’s on a good stretch, and hopefully he can sustain it.”
DeCuire is clearly growing more comfortable with Falls. The freshman has put up new career highs in minutes played in each of the past four games.
The Lady Griz young star, on the other hand, almost didn’t see the court this season. Head coach Shannon Schweyen thought about redshirting Sophia Stiles. Now the first-year player from Malta provides a lift every night.
Stiles hasn’t found her shooting touch yet, but she excels at the one part of the game freshman usually struggle with: defense. She leads the team and ranks in the top 10 in the Big Sky Conference in steals with 1.7 per game.
“Definitely ever since I was little I’ve been more of a defensive player. I think it’s more fun to play defense,” said Stiles with a laugh. “And I just feel more calm and confident on the defensive end, and I just know what I can do there to help my team.”
“She really does see things incredibly well for a freshman,” said Schweyen. “She reads actions well. She understands what’s going to happen. We always talk about trying to kind of see the big picture when you’re on defense. She sees a lot of it.”
Stiles made several huge plays down the stretch to help the Lady Griz dig out of a 21-point hole last Thursday and start conference play with a win over Northern Arizona.
Both 2-0 Montana teams will continue conference play versus North Dakota on Thursday. The Lady Griz play in Grand Forks at 6 p.m.. The Griz men host the Fighting Hawks at 7 p.m.