MISSOULA — It's been a quick start to the season for the Montana Lady Griz under first-year head coach Brian Holsinger.
The Lady Griz are currently 5-1, and after four straight road games are back in Missoula this weekend to open Big Sky Conference play. UM hosts Sacramento State on Thursday at 7 p.m. and will welcome Northern Colorado on Saturday at 2 p.m.
After a close home loss to Gonzaga, the Lady Griz have been road warriors over the last couple of weeks and have wins over North Dakota, North Dakota State, Houston Baptist and Nicholls State.
Through this early stretch, UM has shown it can start fast, and also close out tight games.
"These girls have been resilient," Holsinger said. "They're really good at making adjustments and listening and going out and doing what we ask so it's been fun. The close games I think for coaches is stressful but for them to win a close game is super fun and builds camaraderie and builds excitement and it's been really good and I'm really proud of them because they've been resilient."
The Lady Griz have been boosted by three key returners in senior Sophia Stiles, senior Abby Anderson and junior Carmen Gfeller. Gfeller and Anderson, both forwards, were both third-team all-conference players in 2020-21, and Gfeller was selected to the preseason all-league team back in October and has already had three double-doubles this year en route to averaging 14.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting at a 64% clip from the field. Meanwhile Stiles is averaging 11.0 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per contest and Anderson is averaging 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds as well.
The return of Sammy Fatkin has added a veteran presence as well as a key scoring option as Fatkin leads the team with 14.8 points per game, while a number of Montana's incoming transfers and freshmen have worked their way into the mix. East Carolina transfer Katerina Tsineke, a junior, has joined Stiles, Fatkin, Anderson and Gfeller as the team's fifth starter and is averaging 5.7 points per game, while senior Nyah Morris-Nelson, who scored a career-high 11 points against Nicholls State, has been one of the first options off of the bench. Freshmen Dani Bartsch (5.2 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) and Haley Huard (5.0 points per game) have shown their readiness to play right away while senior Kylie Frohlich also continues to crack the rotation.
"I think it just is showing all of the work that we've been putting in since the summer and I think it's just been really exciting," Stiles said. "This team is gelling really well pretty early so hopefully we can just keep getting better throughout the season."
The potential is there.
Stiles and Gfeller have already earned conference player of the week honors and UM knocked down 14 3-pointers in their last win against Nicholls State.
With conference play starting early, it'll be another good early test to see where this program is at.
"There's nothing better than games to really show the good things that happened but also show the weaknesses that occurred too so we've seen some things that we need to improve on, a lot of things, and we've seen some things that we've done well and so it's exciting," Holsinger said. "Our team is coming together and we're getting a better picture of what I think we will be like down the road."