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MSU Billings hoops, soccer earn GNAC awards

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Posted at 8:43 AM, Nov 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-09 10:43:55-05

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

PORTLAND, Ore. – After starting its 2021-22 season with a pair of victories at the D2CCA Tip Off Classic at the Trailhead over the weekend, the Montana State University Billings women’s basketball team was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Team of the Week while senior forward Taryn Shelley was named the GNAC Player of the Week announced by the conference office on Monday.

MSUB (2-1) defeated Minot State University 72-66 to open the tournament and beat Kutztown university 66-55 to close the event, with a narrow 67-61 loss to No. 1 Lubbock Christian University in between. The Yellowjackets also beat Montana Tech 67-54 in an exhibition contest last week. “It was a great weekend for our team,” said MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin. “I thought we played some very good basketball on both ends. We are young and inexperienced, but I like what I am seeing and I believe we have great potential.”

The GNAC Team of the Week award is presented weekly to the top-performing team in the conference across all sports. This is Shelley’s second career GNAC Player of the Week award, after she claimed the honor on Dec. 24, 2018 during her freshman season at MSUB.

Shelley powered the Yellowjackets to the winning record, averaging 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds en route to landing a spot on the all-tournament team. Shelley shot 57.8 percent overall from the field and added four blocked shots to her stat line. She completed the 19th double-double of her MSUB career with 14 points and 11 rebounds against the two-time defending national champion, after scoring a tournament-high 25 points on a career-high 12 made field goals in the opener against Minot State.

“Taryn played excellent basketball for us this past week,” Woodin said. “She is an improved player on both ends and her experience and leadership are so important to our young team. Taryn’s versatility and ability to score from many areas really helps our offense, and her interior defense has been solid. She is playing at an elite level.”

As a team the Yellowjackets out-scored their opposition 66.3-62.7 and held a strong rebounding margin of 36.3-28.3 while out-boarding all three opponents. Cariann Kunkel earned all-tournament honors for the ‘Jackets, averaging 12.0 points and 6.0 rebounds during the first three games of her junior season.

MSUB held off a persistent Minot State team in the season opener, using a strong second half with 21 points in both the third and fourth quarters to seal a 72-66 win on Friday. Full game recap online here. []

The ‘Jackets stunned the Chaparrals, who had won 36 consecutive games entering Saturday’s marquee affair, with a 17-8 opening quarter to gain early momentum. The visitors rallied to top the ‘Jackets 67-61 however, and withstood a late MSUB push that put the hosts down by just three points with 30 seconds left in the game. Full game recap online here. []

“We won a close game against Minot State and I was pleased with our execution offensively down the stretch,” said Woodin. “The Lubbock game was a lot of fun. The atmosphere was electric and we started very well. The second quarter was our downfall but we responded in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit from double digits to three points. Lubbock is a powerhouse and we gave them our best shot, but it just wasn’t quite good enough.”

Playing its third game in as many days, MSUB overcame its worst half of the tournament to beat Kutztown 66-55 in the finale. The Yellowjackets scored just 26 points in the opening 20 minutes, and saw the Golden Bears go on a 16-0 run to build a 34-26 halftime lead. A kick-start from the bench in the third quarter and strong finishes from Kunkel and Shelley propelled the Yellowjackets to a late rally, as MSUB out-scored Kutztown 23-10 in the fourth quarter to storm back. Full game recap online here. []

“Sunday was another hard-earned win for us,” Woodin said on the comeback effort against Kutztown. “We struggled for most of the first two quarters and got down by double digits, but our bench really sparked us in the third quarter and we found a way to win. Once we got the lead back, we did a good job of limiting Kutztown to one shot and we executed offensively down the stretch. Overall, it was awesome to host the D2 Tip Off Classic at MSUB, and the event was very successful for our MSUB and Billings communities.”

The Yellowjackets hit the road this weekend, taking on Holy Names University on Friday at 2 p.m. Pacific/3 p.m. Mountain and San Francisco State University on Saturday at noon Pacific/1 p.m. Mountain at the Holy Names Classic in Oakland, Calif. Live coverage for both games will be available online here. []

After piloting MSUB's men’s soccer team to four points in the final two home matches of his career, fifth-year senior captain Luca Battistotti was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week announced by the conference office on Monday.

Battistotti anchored a Yellowjacket back line that earned a 1-1, double-overtime draw against Western Washington University, before shutting out Simon Fraser University 3-0 in the team’s most lopsided conference defeat since the 2013 season. “What an honor to get awarded defensive player of the week for his last two home games of his career, and it is a well-deserved award,” said MSUB head coach Thomas Chameraud. “Luca has been a rock for us in the back the entire season, and last week was no different. It was really difficult to get past him. We didn’t concede a goal in play in the last three games and Luca, our captain was a big part of that.”

Although the Yellowjackets took the lead just 12 minutes into the match against the Vikings, the atmosphere of the match turned ominous when a red card was shown in the 28th minute to the hosts. The prospect of playing the rest of the match a man down didn’t rattle Battistotti or the back line, as they buckled down and prevented the second-leading offense in the conference from taking advantage. The Vikings managed to equalize late, but Battistotti’s full 110-minute effort helped MSUB earn a hard-fought point with the draw.

The San Rocco al Porto, Italy native was honored in a pregame ceremony on Saturday, in advance of his final home match in an MSUB uniform. After the recognition, he was brilliant again on the back line in the program’s second-ever win over Simon Fraser. It was only the third time MSUB has ever held the perennial power without a goal, with the others being 0-0 double-overtime draws.

Battistotti was fearless defensively throughout the two matches, winning numerous challenges in the defensive third, organizing a back line that drew its opponents offside 10 times, and even producing a pair of header shot attempts that narrowly missed finding the back of the net.

This marks the first-ever GNAC Player of the Week award for Battistotti, who is the longest-tenured Yellowjacket with his career beginning in the fall of 2017. The three-time all-conference selection has played in 71 matches in his MSUB career, which is tied for third-most in school history.

This is the second GNAC Player of the Week award for the men’s soccer team, after Halil Yilmaz claimed the honor on Sept. 7, 2021 after opening the season with a hat trick.

The Yellowjackets (4-7-3, 2-4-2 GNAC) finish their 2021 season on the road this week with two final conference contests. MSUB plays at Northwest Nazarene on Thursday at 6 p.m., before facing Saint Martin’s University on Saturday at 1 p.m. Live coverage for this weekend’s matches can be found online here. []