By JOEL CARLSON
Montana junior Kayleigh Valley, who led the league in scoring and her team to a fifth-place finish, was named a unanimous first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection Sunday on the eve of the conference tournament in Reno.
Valley, who would have been a lock for MVP had the Lady Griz finished higher in the standings, led Montana to a 19-10 regular-season record while putting together one of the best offensive campaigns in program history.
Senior McCalle Feller, who finished third in the league in scoring at 16.5 points per game, was voted to the five-player second team.
Valley was one of six first-team selections on a list that mostly matched the league standings. Also making first team were Montana State’s Jasmine Hommes, Eastern Washington’s Hayley Hodgins, Idaho’s Christina Salvatore, North Dakota’s Mia Loyd and Sacramento State’s Adella Randle-El.
Valley, Hommes and Hodgins were the only unanimous first-team picks in voting done by the league coaches over the weekend.
Hommes was named MVP after leading the Bobcats to their first outright Big Sky title in program history. Montana State also had the league’s Top Reserve in Peyton Ferris and Top Newcomer in Riley Nordgaard. Ferris was a second-team selection, Nordgaared honorable mention.
Montana State went 14-4 in league to win the regular-season title by a game over Eastern Washington, Idaho and North Dakota, all of which went 13-5. Montana finished alone in fifth place at 12-6.
Joining Feller and Ferris on the second team were Weber State’s Regina Okoye, Eastern Washington’s Delaney Hodgins and North Dakota’s Makailah Dyer.
Northern Arizona’s Alyssa Rader was voted Outstanding Freshman, Weber State’s Brittney Dunbar the Defensive Player of the Year.
Valley was honorable mention All-Big Sky a year ago while playing in the large shadow cast by do-everything point guard Kellie Rubel. Valley was named to the preseason All-Big Sky team last fall.
The forward’s 21.6 points per game entering the tournament is a scoring average surpassed in program history only by Shannon Cate, who averaged 23.3 in 1991-92 and 22.3 in 1990-91. Valley’s 625 points this season trail only Cate’s 668 from 1990-91 in Lady Griz history.
“Last year we had Kellie and some other good scorers, so it wasn’t really my time to be a scoring leader or play that role on the team,” said Valley. “This year that’s changed a little bit. I needed to step up into that role.
“The coaches have given me a lot of opportunities to fulfill that role and get it done on the offensive end.”
What set Valley, who as the only non-senior on this year’s first team will be next year’s preseason MVP, apart this season has been her consistency. She scored 16 or more points in all 18 of Montana’s Big Sky games, eight times reaching 26 or more.
She hasn’t scored fewer than 15 in a game since Lehigh’s Thanksgiving tournament.
“Kayleigh just blossomed this year,” said coach Robin Selvig. “What stands out to me is her consistency more than anything. She’s been a workhorse night in and night out.
“But nobody can have the kind of year Kayleigh had if she doesn’t have good players around her. That’s really the key. It’s hard for teams to totally take her away, because someone else can hurt you.”
For much of the season that was Feller, who also was honorable mention All-Big Sky last season. She was the Big Sky’s most dangerous scorer from late December through January, with three 30-point scoring outings in a stretch of eight games.
An ankle injury on Feb. 4 against Sacramento State forced Feller to miss three games. She has been slowly making her way back to her previous form.
“I feel great that McCalle got second team, because there are so many really good players in this league. It’s difficult for the coaches to vote,” said Selvig.
Montana will take the No. 5 seed into the Big Sky tournament and open against No. 12 Northern Arizona on Monday at 3:30 p.m. (MT) at the Reno Events Center. If the Lady Griz win, they’ll face No. 4 North Dakota on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. (MT).
2015-16 All-Big Sky Conference
Jasmine Hommes, Montana State (unanimous)
Hayley Hodgins, Eastern Washington (unanimous)
Kayleigh Valley, Montana (unanimous)
Christina Salvatore, Idaho
Mia Loyd, North Dakota
Adella Randle-El, Sacramento State
McCalle Feller, Montana
Regina Okoye, Weber State
Peyton Ferris, Montana State
Delaney Hodgins, Eastern Washington
Makailah Dyer, North Dakota
Honorable Mention: Deeshyra Thomas, Weber State; Apiphany Woods, Idaho State; Ali Forde, Idaho; Geraldine McCorkell, Idaho; Riley Nordgaard, Montana State
MVP: Jasmine Hommes, Montana State
Top Newcomer: Riley Nordgaard, Montana State
Outstanding Freshman: Alyssa Rader, Northern Arizona
Defensive Player of the Year: Brittney Dunbar, Weber State
Top Reserve: Peyton Ferris, Montana State
Montana Sports Information