BOISE, Idaho — The Montana Lady Griz saw their season come to a close on Tuesday night in the quarterfinal round of the Big Sky Conference Tournament, as UM finished the season with 19 wins and 11 losses.
The loss concluded the first season with Brian Holsinger at the helm of the program after he was hired back in April. And it was a season with plenty of ups and downs for Montana.
"It's been a joy," Holsinger said about his first year guiding the program. "From day one, they have 100% bought in to what I want to do. There's always bumps in the road, there's always those kinds of things and it's cost us a few games here and there. But this is a journey.
"I tell them this all the time, you try to do things the right way and how you handle failure and losing is as important as how you handle winning. Hard things happen in life. How you respond to it and how you come back from those hings is what's important."
The Lady Griz compiled a 7-3 record in non-conference play including a seven-point loss to Gonzaga, a team that went on to win the WCC Tournament. UM also had a win against Mountain West opponent Utah State where they scored 103 points.
Conference play was a different tale, as the Lady Griz finished 12-8 in league play.
Consistency was an issue for Montana in Big Sky play, and COVID was a big part of that as Montana had six games postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.
Because of that, UM's practice schedules and more were thrown out of whack, and at times that was apparent as Montana's chemistry seemed off, especially on the road where they went 5-7. But, that was the case for teams across the country who dealt with another year affected by COVID-19.
All of that resulted in Tuesday's quarterfinal exit at the hands of Northern Arizona, the second time that's happened in the last three years, and the Lady Griz have just one postseason win since 2016 when the Big Sky Tournament went to a neutral site.
Going forward, Montana has signed four freshmen to its 2022 class, including ESPN Top 100 recruit Mack Konig as well as Melstone standout Draya Wacker. Alex Pirog and Libby Stump round out the quartet who will join UM next year.
They'll join budding talents like freshmen Haley Huard and Dani Bartsch who both saw significant minutes in their first college seasons. Sophomore Kyndall Keller developed into a key defensive player and offensive spark at times off of the bench, while junior Carmen Gfeller was named first-team All-Big Sky this year as well. Fellow junior Katerina Tsineke, who transferred to UM from East Carolina, also proved to be a reliable option off of the bench.
Roster structure for the foreseeable future is also a development to watch. Montana has five seniors on their roster, but only Sammy Fatkin is unable to come back next year. Because of the extra COVID year provided by the NCAA, Sophia Stiles, Abby Anderson, Nyah Morris-Nelson and Kylie Frohlich could all be candidates to come back next year. Stiles, the Malta product, was named second-team All-Big Sky this season.
How Holsinger shapes his roster heading into year two will be the biggest storyline to watch this coming offseason.
"Being a Lady Griz has meant everything to me," Stiles said. "I'm a Montana kid, this is where I wanted to be my whole life. The greatest thing that I'm taking from this is just all of the relationships I've built with my teammates, coaches, trainers, just everyone in the facility. Lady Griz basketball means a lot to Missoula and to everyone around so it's just been an awesome, awesome opportunity."
The senior class has been through a lot, something Holsinger noted in the press conference and how these players have had three head coaches in three years. But players like Stiles and Anderson stuck with the program through all of the turnover and ups and downs.
"It's meant everything," Anderson said about her time at UM. "It's been the biggest blessing, the biggest opportunity. I got to live in Montana for five years, it's a beautiful place. And then to meet some of the best people, best friends, great mentors, I wouldn't trade it for anything the last five years."