PALO ALTO, Calif.— For Big Sky Conference teams - advancing to the NCAA tournament is a monumental achievement.
That’s why the 2020 season was so heartbreaking for the Montana State women, who were set to face Idaho for the league championship and a berth in the Big Dance before the onset of the COVID-19 wiped away the postseason.
But the Cats are back for the third time in program history, set for face defending National champion Stanford on Friday night, and this years team is taking the court for the five seniors who didn’t get to finish their careers in their own terms.
“We had a historic season and we got to that championship game when we found out that we weren't going to finish the tournament, and so there's the what-if,” said head coach Tricia Binford. “But they're a big part of us.”
Darian White and Kola Bad Bear were both freshmen on the 2020 team, and took some time during their press conference on Thursday to explain how much those players mean to them.
“I know both of us still talk to some of the players from that team. It was a very tough, heartbreaking year to not be able to finish out the season the way we wanted, especially knowing how talented we were,” White said. “So just having them to still be able to talk to - I mean Fallyn Freije still gives me confidence to this day. It is just amazing to be able to have her still right next to us supporting us just as if she is still on this team and a part of this team. Yeah, they've had a really big impact on our careers here.”
Blaire Braxton was a senior in 2020, and has since made the transition to the MSU coaching staff. She says this year’s postseason run is different but no less special to her or her teammates who didn’t get the chance to play for a Big Sky championship.
“I was kind of thinking, I wish I had this moment with my team, but what an incredible blessing to have it with this one. That 2020 team is going to forever be a what-if. But once you leave Bobcat athletics, you’re still an extension of that program,” Braxton said. “That (league) win, as much as it was ours, is that classes’ as well. We’re just appreciating that we’re in this situation again and that we had an opportunity to get here in the first place.”
Tip-off between Montana State and Stanford from Maples Pavilion is set for 8 p.m. on ESPN 2.