(EDITOR’S NOTE: UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA ATHLETICS RELEASE)
MISSOULA – Neither Kaelyn Smith nor Brooklyn Weisgram, who signed National Letters of Intent recently to play softball at Montana, was born in the state.
Both moved to western Montana more than a decade in, with Smith landing in Polson as a sixth grader by way of Texas and Weisgram finding a home in Missoula in fifth grade after spending her early years in North Dakota.
But they were hardly outsiders when they arrived at their new homes. Both were born into Griz families. All their relocation to Montana did was heighten the connection.
“They both have families that love the University of Montana, so they were born into that,” said coach Melanie Meuchel. “When they moved here, it probably became more of an everyday thing for them.”
It will become a full-on everyday thing next fall when they join Montana as freshmen, along with the four players who committed in the fall: Kylie Becker (INF, Las Vegas, Nev.), Maygen McGrath (INF, Salem, Ore.), McKenna Tjaden (C/UT, Murrieta, Calif.) and Reilly Williams (C/INF, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho).
Smith, a senior at Polson High, is an infielder who could also play outfield at the next level.
Her high school coach is also her grandfather, Larry Smith, who is in his 31st year coaching the Pirates. He has led the program to seven state titles and last spring was inducted into the Montana State Coaches Hall of Fame.
Weisgram, a senior at Sentinel High, is a corner outfielder. She was voted first-team all-state last season after helping the Spartans advance to the Class AA state tournament.
She will be among friends next year at Montana. Weisgram will be one of at least eight athletes who are seniors at Sentinel High School who will be suiting up for the Grizzlies in various sports next season.
“It’s been really cool to see how talented this class is and see where we all started four years ago and to progress through these last three years with them and see where their sports have taken them,” said Weisgram.
“It’s going to be fun to continue going to school with them and keep accomplishing our goals together.”
Both players have come of age as softball players in lockstep with Montana’s program, which hired its first coach when Smith and Weisgram were entering the eighth grade. The Grizzlies’ first season was the players’ freshman year of high school.
“I’ve always had a dream to play at the collegiate level,” said Smith. “Once I found out they were starting up the softball program, that became my dream, and I made it my goal to play there.”
And she invested the time and energy to make it a reality. She went to the team’s camps, both in summer and winter. She went to clinics, as a way to both improve her game and to make sure Montana’s coaches knew who she was. It all led to an offer.
“I was thrilled, ecstatic,” said Smith, whose team won four games last spring at the state tournament in Sidney but came up short of the title.
“It was an amazing feeling to know they wanted me to play for the Griz. My goal is to keep getting better and better, and go from a successful high school team to a successful college team.”
Weisgram has a personal connection to the softball program. Her cousin, Alex Wardlow, is a senior on the team and one of 10 players who have been in the program all four years of its existence.
“My neighbor got me going in the sport when I first moved here, and it turned into a favorite hobby of mine,” said Weisgram.
“As time went on and the Griz got a program, my cousin was part of the first team, so it was cool watching her play. After that happened, it’s been something I’ve strived to be a part of. To be able to follow in Alex’s footsteps and pursue softball at the next level, it’s amazing.”
Weisgram is an outfielder, Smith mainly an infielder, but given her speed and Montana’s needs, she could see time in the outfield as well.
It will be a position of turnover for Montana following the end of the season and the departure of the team’s 11 seniors. Four of those players are outfielders: Wardlow, MaKenna McGill, McKenzie Phillips and Katie Jo Waletzko.
Waletzko and Dani Walker, who is also a senior, are Montanans, giving the program two from the state going out and two coming in.
“Fans will gravitate toward any player in a Griz uniform, but there is always a little more connection when they are Montana kids,” said Meuchel, who also has Morgan Johnson of Missoula and Tristin Achenbach of Great Falls on the roster.
“They always bring a lot of pride, because they are playing for and representing their home state.”
When Montana played its first season in 2015, it did so with a roster that included 15 freshmen. The numbers of that class have dropped slightly over the years, but it’s always been a large pack that’s been moving up the ladder, from freshmen to sophomore to junior and now to senior.
The group of four that signed in November was only the start of the incoming class, by design.
“It was always the plan to add some more. With as many as we’re losing, I knew we weren’t done,” said Meuchel, who may also pursue an older, junior college transfer after the season to further balance the classes.
“We didn’t want to rush it with our recruitment of Kaelyn and Brooklyn. We knew we were getting two players with knowledge of the sport and competitive drive.”