MISSOULA – Since Shannon Schweyen took over as Montana women’s basketball head coach last year, it seems the only news she gets is bad news.
Sophia Stiles tore her ACL on Saturday when she landed awkwardly after a blocked shot versus North Dakota. Montana confirmed on Tuesday the breakout freshman will miss the rest of the season, and you can understand the reaction of Schweyen and the rest of her team.
Counting two ACL tears by Kayleigh Valley and another for Alycia (Sims) Harris, four Lady Griz starters have suffered the devastating injury in the past two seasons. This one is especially tough to swallow because Stiles was just becoming a star and one of the most important players on a contending team.
“It’s always very hard to see your teammates go down like this,” said Schweyen. “We felt like we were beginning to play some of our best basketball and figure things out and find our identity. She’d obviously just cracked into the starting lineup and had just started taking off with her play.”
“You see someone like Sophia, who plays her heart out every single second of every single minute, not only in a game but every day at practice, she brings so much more than just stats for us,” said forward Jace Henderson. “She brings consistency every day with her attitude. Everyone feels for her, and so it’s hard.”
After a slow start to the season, Stiles worked her way into more and more minutes. During conference play she ranks second on the team in points, assists, steals and blocks.
But the Lady Griz showed their resiliency, going on a run right after Stiles went down, eventually beating North Dakota, and now everyone will need to step it up another notch.
“She brings so much energy for us. Her scrappy play and just, she’s really offensive-minded, very aggressive,” said Henderson. “So I think we will have to continue to remind ourselves to hold that aggressiveness. I think she helped bring that to us.”
“We talked at practice this morning, we went through this last year, and that’s kind of what made us who we are today and this year’s team who we are today, all of the adversity we faced,” said Schweyen on Tuesday. “It’s the next person’s turn. Somebody’s going to get an opportunity, and often times you can find some great surprises when things like this happen.”
Schweyen had started to give her starters more minutes and rely on her bench less lately. But she has played 11 Lady Griz in most games this year, so UM does have some options to fill in for Stiles.
This week 8-3 Montana hits the road to 5-5 Portland State on Thursday and 1-9 Sacramento State on Saturday.