MISSOULA – The Montana Lady Grizzlies are making strides. The team that finished near the bottom of the Big Sky Conference a year ago now sits in second place two weeks into conference play. Where the Lady Griz finish will come down to how quickly they can turn lessons learned into results.
Montana notched its biggest breakthrough yet last Thursday. The Griz shut down North Dakota, holding the always-tough Fighting Hawks to 43 points on their home court. In the process, Montana snapped a disappointing streak that dated back to when many Lady Griz players were still in high school. UM won for the first time in 20 games away from Dahlberg Arena.
“That was a huge confidence boost,” said sophomore guard Madi Schoening. “The locker room was really fun after the game. It was just cool seeing the whole team come together and support each other.”
“We play together really well now. We’re starting to click,” added sophomore forward Hailey Nicholson. “And getting a road win was really nice for us. I think it boosted our confidence a lot.”
Montana had a chance to double down two days later, traveling to preseason favorite Northern Colorado with both teams 3-0 in the Big Sky. For much of the past couple years, one bad stretch has hurt this team, and a slow start proved the Griz still need to find more consistency.
“I felt like we played them really good after we got down 15-1,” said head coach Shannon Schweyen. “But they’re too good of defensive team to make up ground.”
The Lady Griz ultimately lost the game 68-50.
“I think we learned a lot in that game,” said Nicholson. “I don’t think we were ready to play when we started, so I think we’re all just excited to get another crack at them.”
A young Lady Griz team has played like underdogs through the past two seasons, but it could quickly return to the usual place for the powerhouse program if current trends continue.
“People probably expect that we’re going to be about the same as last year,” said Schoening. “And I think we’ve improved. We just had more room to grow than these teams.”
“We want to get back to that, being one of the top teams in the league,” said Schweyen. “And this is a crew that keeps making big strides and making big jumps, and having those first things happen for them. So our goal is to just keep getting better every day, and then hopefully at the end of the year, we’ll be up there.”
It’s still early in conference play, but this week could wind up very important for the Lady Griz: A 5-1 record in league would feel a lot different than 3-3 or even 4-2.
They want to continue their great play at home in Dahlberg Arena. Montana (3-1) hosts always-scrappy Sacramento State (1-2) Thursday at 7 p.m. and one of the more impressive teams in the Big Sky, Portland State (2-1), on Saturday at 2 p.m.