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#MTTop25: No. 9 – Marti Leibenguth as good ‘as anybody ever’ with Montana Lady Griz

Marti Leibenguth
Posted at 2:15 PM, Jul 14, 2020

(Editor's note: MTN Sports is re-publishing the original stories from the #MTTop25, which launched in 2017 to profile some of the great girls basketball players in Montana history. Every Friday, we will unveil ‘all-decade teams’ that include athletes not profiled in the #MTTop25 countdown. Thus, players like Jill Barta, who graduated from Fairfield in 2014, and Shannon (Cate) Schweyen, who starred at Billings Central and Montana before ultimately coaching the Lady Griz, will not be featured on their respective decade teams. Those players will be featured in the top 25, regardless of era. Our intention is not to revise history, so we're not going to change the order in which the players were featured. However, some articles will include updates to reflect the latest developments in a player's career. This story was originally published on Aug. 1, 2017.)

No. 25 – Kayla Lambert, Brockton; No. 24 – Bobbi Knudsen, Malta; No. 23 – Kati Burrows, Bozeman; No. 22 – Lexie Nelson, Butte; No. 21 – Mandy Close, Bozeman; No. 20 – Sara Tuomi, Billings Senior; No. 19 – Peyton Ferris, Twin Bridges; No. 18 – Skyla Sisco, Malta; No. 17 – Cheri Bratt, Kalispell Flathead; No. 16 – Mandi Carver, Dillon; No. 15 – Andrea Lalum, Bozeman; No 14 – Greta Koss, Malta; No. 13 – Katie Edwards, Denton/Lewistown; No. 12 – Cass Bauer, Hysham; No. 11 – Lisa McLeod, Great Falls CMR, and Jeanne McNulty, Whitehall; No. 10 – Jill Barta, Fairfield.

No. 9 – Marti Leibenguth, Missoula Big Sky

Not all basketball players progress at the same rate, and Marti Leibenguth was certainly a late bloomer. But once it clicked, Leibenguth developed into one of the best Montana Lady Griz players in program history.

Marti Leibenguth stat sheet

Leibenguth was admittedly an average high school player at Missoula Big Sky, but then-Montana coach Robin Selvig saw something in the then-guard. Leibenguth was more heavily recruited on the track, but Selvig’s vision paid off for the Lady Griz.

Leibenguth hit a growth spurt once on campus at UM and transitioned from guard to forward. As a freshman during the 1984-85 season, she led the team in steals, only to eventually go on to lead the team in rebounding her junior and senior seasons. On a team full of all-time greats, Leibenguth stood tall, earning all-conference honors three times in the Mountain West.

Playing alongside players like Lisa McLeod and Jeanne McNulty, Leibenguth and the Lady Griz lost just two conference games over her final three years, twice advancing to the NCAA Tournament (defeating Utah in the first round in 1986). She averaged 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game during the 1985-86 season, 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 1986-87 and 16.6 points and 9.5 rebounds in 1987-88. Leibenguth led UM in scoring and rebounding twice each and led the team in field goal percentage the final three years of her college career.

She made 57.2 percent of her field goal attempts during the 1985-86 season, which is still the program’s single-season record. Her 54.7 percent season in 1987-88 is the third-best single season in program history. For her career, Leibenguth was a 52.9 percent shooter, the best in UM history and 10th-best in conference history. She played in 124 games, tied for sixth-most in Lady Griz history, and scored 1,360 career points, eighth-most in program history. She’s also in the top 10 in field goals made (548, sixth all-time) and rebounds (795, eighth).

After her collegiate career, Leibenguth played one season of professional basketball in France before returning to Montana, where she graduated in 1990. She entered the coaching ranks and led the Missoula Big Sky girls basketball program for 18 seasons, retiring after the 2012-13 season. While on the sideline for the Eagles, Leibenguth coached one of the best players in Montana basketball history in Joslyn Tinkle and guided the team to Class AA state championships in 2008 and 2009.

… on Leibenguth:

Former Montana coach Robin Selvig: “(Leibenguth) was a great player. She had as good of a senior year, I think, as anybody ever for us. If you look at her statistics, I don’t remember, but I think she shot 57 percent from the field that year, and was another versatile player. She was 6 foot, 1 inch, but I think she came to us at 5 foot, 11 inches, played point guard in high school and then ended up being maybe 6 foot, 2 inches and a power forward. She had tremendous shooting touch and was really something her senior year. She was such a high percentage scorer and really difficult to defend because of her size and her ability to go inside and out. But what really stands out to me is how her shooting percentage throughout her career got better and better. If you got her the ball you would think, ‘OK, there’s two (points).’ People worked to not let her get the ball. I was actually on the committee, the Kodak all-American committee, and she was talked about quite a bit in the meeting. The main reason is (Stanford coach) Tara VanDerveer was on the committee, too, and we had just played them and lost in overtime, and Marti had a great game and Tara was going, ‘Who is that?’ She knew by the end of the game, so Marti got a pretty good look.

“She was a really good scorer around the basket. She was a good 3-point shooter, as well, but we didn’t use the 3 as much then. She actually had a 3 hanging on the rim in that Stanford game that would have put us into the Sweet 16 that year. She was really high percentage around the basket, but, again, could put it on the floor and anytime you’re talking about being 6-1 or 6-2 and having perimeter skills, that’s a tough matchup.”

Marti Leibenguth: “I was not very big. I was 5 foot, 5 inches, I think, so I was playing guard. Personally, I don’t think I was very good in high school. I was recruited as a guard by Rob and I didn’t really play a guard at the University (of Montana). … I think that was one of the best things that happened to me, being smaller and playing guard when I was younger. When I got to the college level I had the skills to dribble and do things that maybe most post players couldn’t do.

“(Playing at Montana) was the best time of my life. If I could do that again, I would do it again. The teammates I had are my friends now. I got to play with Joslyn (Tinkle’s) mom, Lisa. She had incredible hands, if you threw a crappy pass she could catch it and make you look good. Every person on our team was incredible, so I cherish every minute I had being a Lady Griz, and obviously having Rob as a coach was amazing.

“It was difficult (transitioning from player to coach). When I first started coaching I had all these big ideas in my head that I would do this and that, but it doesn’t work out like that sometimes. You have to look at the players you have and what you’re able to accomplish with them. Your coaching has to change every year with every kid, and I thought it was a fun transition from player to coach. You always want to be on the floor playing, but coaching and seeing the kids develop was a great reward for me.”