(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- Dani Bartsch and Haley Huard turned previous verbal commitments into National Letters of Intent on Wednesday when both signed to join the Lady Griz next fall as freshmen.
Bartsch, a 6-foot-2 forward, is a senior at Helena Capital High.
Huard, the daughter of former Washington and NFL quarterback Brock Huard, grew up in the Seattle area before moving to Colorado last summer.
The 6-foot-1 shooting guard is a senior at Valor Christian High in Highlands Ranch.
She previously played at Eastlake High, in Sammamish, Wash., where she was part of a Class 4A state championship team as a sophomore.
While it was a day to look forward to basketball for Bartsch, her more immediate priority is another sport.
She and her twin sister, Paige, have led Capital High to 70 straight wins on the volleyball court, a Class AA record. If they make it 71 on Saturday, it will mean a third consecutive state title for the Bruins.
“Dani is a proven winner. She is a versatile athlete who is part of winning programs in every sport she has been a part of,” said Lady Griz coach Mike Petrino.
In addition to state volleyball titles in 2018 and ’19, Capital had a third-place finish in 2017.
Capital’s basketball team went 22-1 last season, its only loss a two-point setback. The Bruins were named Class AA co-champions with Billings West after the title game went unplayed.
“She has a great competitive resume. She’s just a winner. She comes in with very few losses as a varsity, competitive athlete across multiple sports,” said Petrino.
“She has a good fundamental foundation and an upside. Her length, her athleticism, her rebounding and her scoring around the basket are her strengths. She is an athletic player who can do multiple things, which we like. We’re excited for her.”
Bartsch verbally committed more than a year ago, in October 2019, pre-COVID and when the Lady Griz were under a different head coach. Even with the change in program leadership last spring, Bartsch never wavered on her decision.
“I’m going to Montana for its accounting program and business school. Playing basketball is just a bonus,” said Bartsch, who had offers to play volleyball at the collegiate level as well.
“I love both sports, but I’ve always been better at basketball. The school and Missoula were a big part of helping me choose.”
Bartsch was first-team all-state as a junior, second-team all-state as a sophomore. She has nine career double-doubles and one triple-double, the night she posted 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.
“Winning definitely drives me and amps up my competitiveness, because I hate losing,” she said. “That’s always been something that makes me push the hardest I possibly can and do the best for my teammates to my fullest capabilities.”
She’ll join the Lady Griz one season after they added four Montanans to the roster, including Kyndall Keller, a former club teammate, and Willa Albrecht, whom she would have battled last March in the state title game had it been played.
“I’m excited to play with Kyndall again, and I’ve played against Willa for quite some time, so I’m excited to finally be on her team,” said Bartsch.
“Watching some of the other girls, I’m really excited to play with them.”
Huard will arrive with the cachet that her surname carries, but she’s more than just the daughter of parents who played football and women’s basketball at Washington.
Her dad has remained in the public eye, doing color commentary for ESPN for years before moving over to FOX. Last weekend he worked the Michigan-Indiana college game on Saturday, the Seattle-Buffalo NFL game on Sunday.
That Huard was the No. 4 rated college prospect in Washington for her class (prepgirlshoops.com) before moving to Colorado and has had both Power 5 and mid-major interest for years is a result of her own hard work.
“I’m excited for Haley to write her own chapter in her family history,” said Petrino. “She’s taking her own path, and I respect that about her.
“She had multiple mid-major offers and even some Power 5 interest early on, so we were one of many who were recruiting her. She has great length. She’s a good-sized guard who can shoot the three.”
She has tall parents, but Huard had the size of a guard for a long time growing up, so she learned guard skills, particularly the 3-point shot. When the growth did start, she kept that skillset.
“So I’m a 6-1 shooter,” she said. “I can play inside and do some high-post stuff, but shooting is definitely my specialty.”
She was a key cog on the Eastlake team that won a state title in 2019 as the field’s No. 8 seed.
After the season she was invited to play in the Puget Sound Throwdown and was named MVP of the Rising Stars Game. She later earned a spot at the Adidas Gauntlet All-American Camp in Los Angeles.
“She has a great work ethic,” said Petrino. “I can’t tell you how many times one of us would try to call her and she was in the gym working out.”
As a junior she averaged 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.3 assists to earn second-team All-KingCo honors.
After the school year, her dad took a job with Compassion International, a nonprofit based in Colorado Springs that works to fight global child poverty through Christian ministry programs.
The family landed in Highlands Ranch, south of Denver and 45 minutes from Colorado Springs. Huard and her younger sister joined an already strong team at Valor Christian that includes two Pac-12 commits.
“It’s been super fun to walk into a great team and competitive environment for my senior year and try to get the most out of it before I leave for Montana,” said Huard.
Her coach? Jessika (Stratton) Caldwell, who played at Baylor in Kim Mulkey’s first four years at the school, from 2000-01 to 2003-04. She was a three-year starter, a two-time captain.
Her coach’s final game? Seventeen points in a two-point loss to No. 1 seed Tennessee in the Midwest Region semifinals.
“My coach is amazing,” said Huard. “Our practices are super efficient. She just wants to get each player to reach her full potential. And she’s been a mentor to me too, which has been really good.”
Unlike Bartsch, Huard was undecided on a college last spring, so she and her family made a trip to Missoula during the early weeks of the city’s stay-at-home orders.
It was such a ghost town that the DoubleTree, where they stayed, had just two rooms occupied.
“They came during a dead period, so it was a helpless feeling for us,” said Petrino. “Here is one of the kids we want, and we couldn’t even come to campus at the risk of running into them.”
No worries. Campus, Missoula and Montana did their thing.
“We just kind of fell in love with it. The campus is beautiful, and I love the outdoors, so that’s a huge plus,” said Huard. “I had built a great relationship with the coaches, and a family atmosphere was really high on the list of what I wanted in a school.
“What really drew me to Montana is how important women’s basketball is there and the sports culture they have. That’s something I wanted in a school. In evaluating it, Montana had pretty much everything I wanted.”
Petrino didn’t know that. So he and his staff waited. Until July 14, when Brock Huard tweeted, “Big Day in the Huard house tomorrow.....”
The next day, Petrino was in the parking lot of an Albertson’s when his phone rang.
“I didn’t know where we would be with her. I had heard she was going to commit and thought she was calling me with the bad news. I really did,” said Petrino.
She had him on speaker phone. Her mom, the former Molly Hills, who played in two NCAA tournaments with the Huskies, videotaped the entire thing.
“I didn’t know if he was expecting it or not,” said Huard. “My family was all in the background cheering. We all celebrate each other’s successes.
“My parents had gone down that same road before, but they were pretty hands-off in my recruiting process. They gave me some tips but really let it be my decision. They trusted my instincts. It was cool to see, with everything I’ve put in and everything they’ve put in and sacrificed. It paid off.”
For two future Lady Griz.