MISSOULA – The Montana Lady Griz suit up a just single senior this season, and the whole team follows her lead. Jace Henderson continues to prove she is the heart and soul of the maroon and silver.
The Billings native came to Montana to play volleyball but switched to basketball after one year. She has made a drastic improvement each season. Now the former role player leads her team in points, rebounds and assists, and she holds the top mark in the entire Big Sky Conference, making 59 percent of her shots.
Henderson’s breakout reached another level when she scored 31 points on Saturday versus Idaho, crushing her previous career high of 18. But perhaps even more important are all of the ways she leads the Lady Griz that don’t show up in the box score.
“When you come into your senior year, you kind of take on some leadership as a whole,” said Henderson. “You’ve been there. You know the program. You know the coaches, and you know what they want. So I’ve hoped that that’s where I’ve started, was at the very beginning of this year when I became a senior, that I could introduce those values.”
“She’s a coach’s kid,” added head coach Shannon Schweyen. “She understands what it takes to be a team, what it takes to be a leader, how you have to earn that respect, and she has by example. And I think the best thing about Jace is she is the same person she is now as she was the year she didn’t play much, and that speaks volumes to me.”
Sometimes a difficult situation can bring out the best in a team. The Lady Griz provided a great example on Saturday. Montana turned in perhaps its best victory of the season, while missing some key players.
Starter Taylor Goligoski needs knee surgery and is out for the year, and impressive freshman Katie Mayhue is also sitting out with injury. So Montana’s starters each played at least 34 minutes versus Idaho, and they took down the preseason Big Sky favorite in Missoula.
While Schweyen would surely rather have the depth her team looked to possess early in the year, the losses have shown the importance of everyone on the roster.
“That’s part of the reason I keep reminding these girls that we’re developing these other kids that are on the bench,” said Schweyen. “They need a chance to develop, because you never know when you might lose somebody. It’s been encouraging in the fact that I think we have kids who are buying into the understanding that you need everybody to be contributing all the time.”
“I think with leaders like Jace it just helps push us in practice, and know that, yes, we are short-handed, but we have a lot of talent and ability to keep winning,” added sophomore guard Gabi Harrington.
The win over the Vandals improved the Lady Griz to 4-3 in Big Sky Conference play. They start a stretch of five straight road games at 5-2 Idaho State Thursday night.