One minute Joelnell Momberg was living her dream as part of the Montana Lady Griz basketball team, and the next minute she wasn’t.
After one season of playing as a true freshman, incoming UM head coach Brian Holslinger let her and five others know they wouldn’t be donning a uniform the next year. Having never met the new coach personally, the extra sting of the Zoom meeting set in.
A flood of emotions ran through the Box Elder guard – confusion, shock, anger and sadness. She immediately called her mom and stepdad for support – two people she knew would help her pick up the pieces.
Her stepdad was the one who introduced her to the game and coached her travel team all through elementary school. With the help of her family, teammates, Brandon The Boy (another former Box Elder star), AAU coach Mecklen Davis and training coach Lavon Myers, she began to make sense of the news.
There was no doubt she wanted to find a new school and continue playing the game she loved. After all, it has always been a constant in her life. Her roots are in Browning, Montana but she moved to Box Elder in the fourth grade. Basketball helped ease the transition. Then, her family ventured out to Washington for a year while Momberg wrapped up her senior year. Again, basketball provided stability.
Doubt and fear plagued Momberg as she walked into her new high school of 1,600 students. Box Elder has 100+ kids in the school. She didn’t know a single person – a drastic difference from the small-town, family-like atmosphere of Box Elder.
A big part of her wanted to walk right out of those school doors back to where she was comfortable. But she knew that wasn’t an option. If she wanted to play the game she loved, she’d have to find her way.
And that she did. She not only cracked the starting line up for the Class 4A school, but often led the team in scoring on any given night. Momberg embraced that challenge like she has every other one in her life – with the right perspective and a fierce attitude.
Some might even call her a seeker of challenges.
For three years of her high school career, she woke early and headed to the gym to meet her training coach Lavon Myers. Having played at Montana State University - Northern himself, he knew what it would take for her to play at the next level. A perfect fit for someone whose favorite part of the game is putting in the time off the court to see the progress on the court.
Adding to her rigorous high school workouts was her commitment to her AAU team. She traveled throughout the state and the greater northwest, enduring long hours on the road and making sacrifices most kids want nothing to do with at her age.
When asked what drives her, she simply replied “It always goes back to my family – they are my biggest supporters. I also truly just love the game of basketball.”
Her mom, stepdad and Brandon The Boy are her role models. They are the ones who get her through the bad times and more importantly, support the lifestyle she’s chosen for herself. Life on the reservation can be tough at times, but it’s her support system that’s helped her walk the straight and narrow. Her native heritage (Blackfeet) keeps her centered and reminds her in this big old world who she is and where she comes from.
“My heritage is everything to me. It’s who I am and I’m proud of it,” she said.
The pressure to win on the reservation can be heavy. Basketball may just be a game some play for a few months out of the year, but not to the Rocky Boy reservation. It provides hope for the future and healing from the past.
Momberg certainly felt that pressure to win in high school. Bringing home two state championships, she’s dealt pretty well with all the hype of being a local star. My stepdad used to tell me that “pressure is privilege” and it’s something she carries with her today.
She’s well aware of the little eyes on her, yearning to be in her shoes one day.
“I love being a role model. I’ve always wanted to be a person who people looked up to. I like being involved in the community and being a part of positive things that are happening,” she said.
Through the winding rode she’s traveled thus far; her next destination is Montana Western. A team that’s consistently at the top of the Frontier Conference and one that landed the last star to come from Box Elder – Lilly Gopher.
“It’s going to be great to be reunited with my old teammate. We work really well together on the court and I’m excited to see where it takes us,” Momberg said.
One thing that’s followed Momberg her whole life is the privilege of pressure. The pressure to succeed.
And there’s no doubt she will show what she is made of.