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After transfer from Iowa State, Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw finding to 'love the game again' with Lady Griz

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Posted at 8:26 PM, Jan 17, 2024

MISSOULA — The Montana Lady Griz have been off to a great start this season, sitting at 11-4 overall, 3-1 in Big Sky Conference play, and have been winners in eight of their last nine games.

A catalyst behind that success has been fifth-year senior Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw, who transferred to Montana from Iowa State this past summer and has become one of UM's top scoring threats, and snipers from deep.

"I think especially for my last senior year, one of my main goals was to come back my final year and learn how to love the game again, and trust my coaches and teammates and really just make it a happy ending for my last year," Espenmiller-McGraw said. "And no matter the outcome, this has honestly been such a great experience for me. So far, I couldn't have wished for anything more."

A native of Indianola, Iowa, Espenmiller-McGraw grew up with deep roots at Iowa State — she estimates about 30 family members have attended ISU including family members who played football there — so getting the chance to suit up for the Cyclones was a dream come true.

After a strong rookie campaign that saw her named to the Big 12's all-freshman team in 2019-20, the next three seasons were anything but smooth, as a multitude of lower leg injuries, including a number of stress fractures, caused her to be sidelined most of her sophomore season, and from there, the minutes began to decline.

It was a difficult pill to swallow for a talent like Espenmiller-McGraw who possessed so much potential out of the gates after she started nearly every game as a true freshman.

"I think the biggest part for me was learning how to ask for help and let people know that I am struggling, this is a hard time in my life," she said. "You're not supposed to be perfect all the time. And I think I really struggled with not always being OK. And I had to learn how to talk to people and and ask for help.

"But once I started to do that, it really helped me to find other hobbies outside of basketball and kind of take my mind off the injury. And then my teammates helped me a lot. They were always making sure I was getting out of the house and stuff and just making me feel like I was still part of the team."

And through it, she began to accept her new roles, and help where she could, as the Cyclones made the NCAA Tournament her final three seasons, including a Sweet 16 run in 2022.

"I think it helped me realize how important every role is on the team," said Espenmiller-McGraw, who added that it also fueled her desire to be a coach someday. "And that's something I kind of took for granted as I was playing all the time. And I think that also helped me become a better leader and kind of understand where people are and how they're feeling throughout the season. So no one ever wishes an injury on someone, but I tried to make the most out of it.

"I think my senior year I had such great seniors when I was a freshman that I kind of wanted to be that senior for the incoming freshmen and the people I knew that would have a lot of minutes ahead of them in their life. So my senior year, I was the hype man and kind of just the locker room teacher for the younger players, making sure everyone was OK. And kind of just being the glue for the team that we needed that year."

After graduating from ISU, Espenmiller-McGraw wanted to find a new adventure.

That brought her from the plains of Iowa to the mountains of Missoula.

"I feel like that's always kind of tricky coming into a new team as an older girl," she said. "But I don't think it could have gone any smoother. The girls were all welcoming and kind of immediately looked at me in that leadership role, which I thought is really cool and speaks a lot about the girls that they recruit here. But yeah, they've been awesome. And I couldn't ask for better teammates this year."

"She's great. Sometimes when you have transfers, you never know how they fit within your culture," Lady Griz head coach Brian Holsinger added. "And I think for her, she's just embraced how we do things, loves our team, loves how we do things. And so that combined with the fact that she can really shoot obviously helps. She's actually a really good decision maker, too.

"She has been an awesome addition, we absolutely love her."

With a healthy restart at UM, Espenmiller-McGraw has been a diamond in the rough find and an immediate impact player for Montana this season. She's second on the team in scoring at 11.1 points per game — a career high — and is shooting at a scorching rate of 42.7% from 3-point range. She has started in all 15 games for the Lady Griz and is averaging nearly 28 minutes per game, numbers she hadn't seen since that decorated freshman season at ISU.

"My first couple games against Gonzaga and Washington State, I hadn't felt nerves like that since my freshman year, and I don't know if it was the crowd or just being in a different role than I have in the past couple years," she said. "I definitely had nerves which I was kind of mad at myself for but now it's just it's just fun. And I feel like we're back to playing how I used to play with my team."

There's been a lot of lessons, patience and gratitude picked up along the way thanks to her experiences.

And now, it's all paying off with one more successful run at Montana.

"It makes me super emotional," Espenmiller-McGraw said. "I forgot how fast the season flies by and I'm just trying to soak up every moment with the girls and the coaches because I know basketball does come to an end, so for me I'm just trying to make the most of it and not take anything for granted while I'm here."