HELENA — Krista Montague knows the importance of public appearances.
The former Hysham High School and MSU Billings basketball standout, who has held the role of MSUB athletic director for the past six years, understands the importance of taking opportunities to spread the word of what’s happening on campus, both in athletics and academics. Montague took that opportunity last Thursday during a trip to Helena as part of the MSU Billings “Buzzin’ Beyond Billings” alumni event.
“It’s such an honor to come and talk about, for me the athletic program, but even bigger than that, just what’s going on at the university,” said Montague, who played basketball at MSUB from 1995-99. “I think our chancellor, Dr. (Dan) Edelman, is doing a lot of great things and I think there’s a lot of buzz around our university right now. In athletics in particular, I’m really passionate about it, I played basketball for MSU Billings, so for me to be able to give back to the university that gave me so much is really important. For me to get out and talk about that is something I really enjoy doing.”
Montague and Edelman, who has served as the MSU Billings chancellor since February 2018, along with men’s soccer coach Alex Balog and MSUB Foundation CEO and president Bill Kennedy, took turns speaking Thursday evening at the Silver Star Steak Company’s Governors Room, addressing important topics like enrollment, grades and plans for the future.
Athletics were a key topic, too, for the Yellowjackets’ director of athletics and chancellor, who each proudly stated the MSU Billings athletic programs consist of nearly 50 percent Montana-grown talent.
“That’s something we’re really proud of. Our coaches are committed to recruiting local talent first, that’s important to them,” said Montague. “But as I said, we realize that Montana only has so many people and I believe we have seven four-year institutions in our state, so there’s competition, right? They do have to reach out to the western part of the United States, pretty much the whole United States and even internationally, so it’s important for us to attract those students, too, because that brings a diversity to our campus that otherwise might not be here.
“That’s what athletics does for a university, brings the diversity, gets good students on campus, students that stay, that graduate, that are retained at good rates. It’s important for us to have that Montana representation. Having 50 percent, I think, is a big deal. That’s something we’re proud of.”
Football continues to be one of the most-discussed topics of conversation surrounding MSU Billings, which hasn’t fielded a varsity football program since 1978 when the university was known as Eastern Montana College. Edelman told those in attendance Thursday that enrollment would need a serious spike before the university could sustain a program, plus building its own stadium would become a priority if the opportunity ever arose.
Montague also addressed MSU Billings’ athletic travels, which often take Yellowjacket programs to Washington, Oregon and even Alaska.
“I definitely understand that question because we are the only NCAA Division II school in the state. For us, we like being unique. Maybe we have to educate more people about that because (people) know the Big Sky (Conference) and you know the Frontier Conference, so MSUB is kind of in-between there,” she said. “For us, like I said earlier, it’s really about our student-athlete experience and we firmly believe that the NCAA Division II gives them the best overall student-athlete experience, at least for us. We’re able to attract quality students with the NCAA brand and they’re able to go on to some pretty good travel in their experience. I think if you really dug into it, I’m not sure how different it is, especially for the Frontier teams that have over 10 teams. They’re traveling to Oregon, Washington. Their non-conference games, if you look at them, they’re having to go probably to California or Arizona, so if you really dug into it and looked at it, I’m not sure you would find that we’re spending that much more on travel.”
“Like our (men’s soccer coach Alex Balog) said, it’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different and it’s a good fit for us,” Montague continued. “The NCAA Division II motto is, ‘Life in the balance,’ and that’s what we try to do for our student-athletes, find that balance for them – academics, athletics and that third community service and social aspect. We try to provide them with a balanced approach. That’s important to us.”
As the MSUB Foundation continues its travels in Montana and beyond (the foundation made a stop in Phoenix in late March and has trips to Butte and eastern Montana on its annual schedule), Montague continues to be a great spokeswoman for the university, able to channel her years as a student-athlete, director of athletics, and soon-to-be parent of a Yellowjacket. Montague’s daughter Shayla, who graduates this spring, is an MSUB women’s basketball commit that will join the program next year, bringing the Montague-MSUB women’s basketball connection back.
“My senior year was 1999 and we went to the NCAA DII Elite Eight that year, so that was really fun for me to have our team go last year because it brought back a lot of memories,” Krista Montague said. “But we’re really proud for Shayla to come to MSUB. We stayed out of it, that was between her and (coach Kevin Woodin) and she’s worked hard, that’s the thing, she has a talent, but she worked at it and now she’s been rewarded. We couldn’t be more proud of her and her team this year for getting second at state, it was a great run. We’re excited she’s going to be close to home, she’s going to live on campus, she’s not going to live at home, and I think that’s important for her to go and get that college experience. But for us to be able to watch her is going to be a lot of fun, and our family is really excited about that.”
“I think we might have talked about free throw percentage because I was a pretty good free throw shooter, but she’s way better than I ever was at 18, trust me,” she continued. “She’s a great shooter. I never was a 3-point shooter. I was a ‘4’ so I played down low in the post, but she’s way ahead of me at 18.”
An alum, athletic director and proud Yellowjacket mom, Krista Montague will continue her travels across the Treasure State, answering questions and discussing opportunities from any of her three roles at the university that’s given her so much.