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Brian Holsinger adds Emma List to Montana Lady Griz coaching staff

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Posted at 9:08 AM, Jun 11, 2024

(Editor's note: University of Montana news release)

MISSOULA — When Joslyn Tinkle left, Sophia Stiles stepped in. She had just the candidate in mind as Montana women’s basketball coach Brian Holsinger started thinking about options to replace an assistant who had been with him from his first months on the job leading the Lady Griz.

I think she would be a great addition to the LG and bring some Jos-type energy, Stiles texted Holsinger about her former teammate at Florida Gulf Coast. Competitor, fiery, wanted to win in practice, good basketball IQ. Bubbly, funny, high energy.

The more Holsinger learned about Emma List, the more he knew he wanted her on his staff. It became official this week.

“When you hear that from someone you respect and care about, it piqued my interest,” said Holsinger. “Then I got to know her. More than anything, she has a contagious personality. Great energy, super positive. There were a lot of people who were trying to hire her, so I’m thankful she wanted to be here.”

List began her playing career at Albany in 2017-18, then transferred to Florida Gulf Coast, where she spent five seasons, the final four on the court, the last three as a starter, the final one, in 2022-23, as a teammate of Stiles, who played at FGCU for one season after spending five at Montana.

When Stiles arrived in Fort Myers without a car, it was List who made sure Stiles got where she needed to go, the two players lovingly becoming the “Old Ladies” to their teammates, sixth-year players enjoying one last run.

List spent last season on the staff at San Diego.

“She is not far removed from playing, and that’s what I wanted,” said Holsinger. “I wanted someone in her position that really can relate to the girls, who can encourage them, who can listen to them and can be someone in certain times that I might not be able to. She is the perfect fit in that way.

“She fits perfectly within our culture, with her values and who she is. You want people who will serve others, who have humility, who know it’s not about them and someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. She is all of those things. The girls already are just thrilled with her.”

List’s parents met as athletes at Gordon College, a school located outside of Boston, Jeff a soccer player, Karen a basketball player. His job would take them to Colorado Springs, where they had two boys, a girl, then another boy just to squeeze the girl from both the top and the bottom.

“I had to fight for everything I wanted,” List says. “I had to be a dog sometimes and be stronger than them. At the same time, they were always very protective of me.”

Matt played football at Wyoming and now is a strength and conditioning coach for the Baylor football team. Dan played football at CSU Pueblo. Joe, also a football player, just graduated from high school.

Once List began playing basketball, her upbringing simply transferred to the court.

“I was more of the dirty-work player,” she says. “I liked to dive on the floor for loose balls, rebound, cheer. I was not a shooter. I loved to drive to the basket, take charges. That was my game.”

The staff at Albany noticed, offered her, the Great Danes going 24-8 in 2017-18 as List played in every game as a true freshman, her only season in New York. After the final game, coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee was hired away by Boston College, leaving List as a free agent.

She was being recruited by Florida Gulf Coast when she decided on Albany, so when her AAU coach tweeted out that List was available once again, FGCU coach Karl Smesko wasn’t going to miss a second time. It didn’t even require another on-campus visit. List was in.

This being the ancient days of pre-COVID and open player movement, List had to redshirt the 2018-19 season, practicing but watching from the sideline as her teammates went 28-5 and made the NCAA tournament.

List and winning would become synonymous. Over the next four years with List as an eligible player, Florida Gulf Coast would go 119-13, 63-3 in league, and make three more NCAA tournaments, only COVID keeping her five seasons at FGCU from ending in five trips to the NCAAs.

Over her six years of college basketball — one at Albany, one as a redshirt at Florida Gulf Coast, four as a player for the Eagles — List was on teams that went 171-26. With the Great Danes making the WNIT when List was a true freshman, she never missed a national tournament.

Her interest in coaching came organically, after seeing firsthand the coaches she was gifted with over the years bring the best out of her, even when she didn’t think she had it in her.

“Being a college athlete, you’re never going to have the best days. My coaches always had my back and pushed me to be great,” she said. “Over the last few years, I decided I want to be that person to these college kids and help them have a good experience.

“There are a lot of tough days balancing basketball, academics and life. It can be a lot. You can go in one of two ways when there are hard times. You can fall or you can rise to the occasion. My coaches always helped me rise when things were tough. I want to be someone who can make the same type of impact.”

She earned her undergraduate degree in three years, in 2020, in integrated studies, added a master’s degree in educational leadership in 2022 and finally a certificate in local government in year six.

As part of her master’s program, she did an internship with the basketball program in 2021-22 while she was still playing, with the FGCU men’s program, helping out then assistant coach Kevin Sutton in a director of operations role.

“She was playing on one team while learning the role of a coach on the men’s side. That took a lot of confidence, a lot of courage to fit in on the men’s side and learn and grow. I have a lot of respect for that,” said Holsinger.

“She put herself in a position to have a lot of high-level mentors. Her references are off the charts.”

At the start of her final year at Florida Gulf Coast, in 2022-23, Stiles arrived from Montana.

“She fit in perfectly,” says List. “Very coachable, very knowledgeable. Just bought in immediately to our system.

“She was one of the best teammates I ever had. Feisty, competitive but always cheering for her teammates, always talking. She really helped the team that year and was a big reason we were so successful.”

With the Old Ladies leading the way — List started 36 games that season, Stiles 35 — the Eagles went 33-4 and knocked off No. 5 seed Washington State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Florida Gulf Coast’s second consecutive season with an NCAA tournament victory.

With FGCU playing on Saturday nights, the schedule allowed Stiles to get her Lady Griz fix, watching Montana play afternoon games on her phone while getting ready at her locker for her next game with her new team. But the roots to her first program and her home state never severed.

“Sophia always talked about the Lady Griz, the Lady Griz,” says List. “I had no idea this would come about. Funny how it’s kind of come full circle. Now I’m part of the Lady Griz.”