CollegeFrontier Conference


Deep postseason runs for Carroll, Providence women provide lasting impacts for Frontier Conference

Posted at 2:29 PM, Mar 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-25 18:40:50-04

SIOUX CITY, Iowa — For the first time in Frontier Conference history, two league teams will face off in the NAIA semifinals with a spot in Tuesday’s national championship game on the line.

It’s rarefied air for the Carroll College and University of Providence basketball teams, but more importantly it’s a showcase for both athletics programs and the league and perpetuates a cycle of recent success for Frontier Conference women’s basketball.

“It started when Montana Western won the 2019 national tournament in Billings and since then we’ve had teams able to go far,” said Providence head coach Bill Himmelberg. “Carroll continues to get there consistently, Western has made a few more appearances. So, the Frontier has come a long way and it's exciting to see how far the teams have grown and how the conference has grown. But we're definitely one of the best conferences in the country.”

The NAIA doesn’t have massive TV deals like the NCAA, so there’s no immediate financial or tangible incentive for schools or teams that make a deep tournament run. But the benefits for a program winning are reaped on the recruiting trail and expanding the fan base.

Argo players look on during Monday's shoot around.

“There's benefit to being in the news a little bit longer, about having your your friends, boosters and supporters talk to you longer about what's going on and be engaged,” said Carroll director of athletics Charlie Gross. “We always talk about getting the Carroll brand out there and when you're playing on the national stage and you're playing longer than every other team, there's definitely benefits that pay off down the road.”

This might be the first time that two Frontier Conference women’s teams have reached the Fab Four, but there’s a strong possibility it won’t be the last — and it might come in quick succession. The Montana schools are taking the right steps to be competitive on the national level. They schedule tough out-of-conference competition, make recruiting inroads and in some cases offer competitive NIL (name, image and likeness) deals.

Montana is an incubator for high-level small-school basketball, and Monday night’s semifinal is proof of concept.

“It shows you the level of basketball people are able to see in Montana, so hopefully it will continue to grow,” Himmelberg said. “We have lots of interest in our program right now, and there's good reason why. We have a great school and great athletics, and our programs just continue to do better and better things. So, it's exciting.”

Traditionally, Midwest and heartland schools have been the standard setters in the NAIA. But Montana schools are rapidly tilting the scales.

“We know that we stack up pretty well. So, to have two teams in the NAIA semifinals is not surprising and the conference can can be proud of that,” Gross said. “We're a small little conference with our six teams, but we've got our chins up and our chests out and we're very proud.”

Monday’s semifinal tips off at 5 p.m. (MDT) at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City. The winner will face either Dordt or Cumberlands on Tuesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN3.

Carroll's Kyndall Keller throws a pass during Monday's pre-game shoot around.