How About Those Lady Griz?

By BILL SCHWANKE for MakeItMissoula.com

Who’da thunk it?

Come on now, don’t sit there and tell me that – back in December and January – when the Montana Lady Griz couldn’t even get the ball over half court in less than 20 seconds against full court pressure from ANYBODY, you thought they would even make it to the Big Sky Conference tournament, let alone have a chance to host it and then go win it by winning three games in three days on the road!

So what caused this miraculous turnaround? Let me list at least some of the causes for you.

1. SOME YOUNG PLAYERS GREW UP AND LOOSENED UP (READ THAT GAINED CONFIDENCE) – Players that were trying so hard to do things they were almost robot-like in their play. I’m talking about Lexie Nelson, thrown into the fire as a starting point guard as a true freshman when she really wasn’t ready. I’m saying ditto about Torry Hill. And add Jordan Sullivan to that list, even though playing in the post was a little less pressure packed. It didn’t help early on that the players that should have loosened the noose for them a bit were still young themselves, players like Katie Baker, Alexandra Hurley and Alyssa Smith. And Sarah Ena couldn’t do it by herself.

2. CIRCUMSTANCES – Take when Katie Baker was sidelined, albeit for a shorter time than originally anticipated, by a nearly emergency appendectomy. Enter Jessa Loman Linford, the athletic senior whose first three seasons were literally stifled by an ailment that drained her of energy quickly and was hard to diagnose until her final season. When she stepped in against the Bobcats in Bozeman she was a different player, much more confident in every aspect of her game, partly because she felt better and partly because she had to be. When Baker returned after one game she came off the bench for the rest of the season. It wasn’t planned that way, but I’m not so sure it didn’t help Katie to watch from the sidelines for a bit before checking in.

3. SOME SUCCESS – After the narrow loss to the Bobcats at home the Lady Griz reeled off six straight wins, three of them on the road at Sac State, Northern Colorado and Idaho State, to thrust themselves back into the conference race and the hunt for hosting rights. There’s nothing like some nail-biting wins at places like Bozeman, Greeley and Pocatello against very good teams to make you feel better about yourself. Then there was the three-game hiccup with home losses to Portland State and Eastern Washington and the road loss at Portland State with Hill’s broken ankle right in the midst of it. It seemed like the Lady Griz had regressed, but honestly I think they ran out of gas a bit. It certainly showed in their shooting. But again the circumstances of Hill’s season-ending injury put Nelson in a position much like Loman Linford faced when Baker went down. Lexi got her chance, and she upper her level of play.

4. THE STENDER FACTOR – The emergence of Stephanie Stender at the Big Sky Conference tourney in Portland was really no emergence at all. If you think about it the one player on the Lady Griz team this season who was pretty steady all season was Stender. Seemingly always relaxed, feisty, aggressive and ready to play, it was justification for her to step into the limelight in Portland and lead her team to the league title as tourney most valuable player. Good for you, Stephanie!

4. THE SELVIG FACTOR – No elaboration needed.

Now it doesn’t really matter what team the Lady Griz draw in the NCAA Tournament. Chances are it will be somebody they will have very little chance to beat. But really, in the case of this year’s Lady Griz team, isn’t the getting there the real point of it all? While an upset win at the big dance would be great, does it really matter? Either way over the next few days, the 2010-11 Lady Griz have already made a lasting impression, almost like the little engine that could.

You go, girls!

I’d love to hear your comments on what I’m talking about or answer any questions you might have. So have at it. I’m way beyond having my feelings hurt. And thanks for reading me. Back to Griz and Lady Griz Hoops blog home page.

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“Grizzly Bill” Schwanke is a UM journalism grad and Missoula native.  He spent 21 years doing play-by-play for Griz football and men’s basketball winning sportscaster of the year six times and working in Grizzly athletics for 15 years total. He’s enjoying retirement, especially the chance to spend time with his three grandsons. His wife Lynn and he have been married for 42years.