Big Sky Conference

Each Treasure State college hoops team approaching recruiting differently on Early Signing Day


The early signing period for Class of 2021 recruits for volleyball, women’s and men’s basketball, track & field, cross country and wrestling opened on Wednesday.

The state of rosters across all college sports remain in flux with the current state of the world and the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCAA granted a blanket waiver for almost all Division I sports, meaning the academic year including this fall semester and next spring semester count as a zero year when it comes to athletic eligibility.

Although scholarships are not guaranteed by schools or coaching staffs, athletes have the option to return (if invited back) and play the 2021-22 academic year with the same year of eligibility that they currently possess.

That means that recruiting is in flux as well. On Wednesday, the Montana State men’s basketball team received four National Letters of Intent. The MSU women received three. The Montana Lady Griz had two official signee. And the Montana men did not have one.

Former Montana State forward Fallyn Freije, last season’s Big Sky MVP, and MSU sophomore Darian White, last season’s league Freshman of the Year/ by Brooks Nuanez

The Montana State women are the defending Big Sky champions after winning a school-record 25 games, including a Big Sky-record 19 league contests. That team graduates six seniors, including Fallyn Freije, last season’s Big Sky MVP.

Entering her 16th season at the helm, reigning Big Sky Coach of the Year Tricia Binford returns just one senior in sharpshooter Tori Martell. But the Bobcats do have Darian White, last season’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year and a preseason All-Big Sky pick, coming back to guide the team as the best two-way point guard in the league.

MSU’s junior class includes Ashley Van Sickle, a contributor her first two years in Bozeman but a redshirt last season, and Gabbi Mocchi, a forward who played 16 minutes a game as a true freshman but just 3.8 minutes per game last season.

The sophomore class includes former Pepperdine transfer Skye Lindsay who sat out last season, guard Sidney Zieske who redshirted last season, and the true sophomore pair of wing Madison Jackson and post Kola Bad Bear, each key contributors off the bench as true freshmen last season.

The only freshman who redshirted for Binford last season is Kenzie Stume, a 5-foot-11 forward from Forest Lake, Minnesota. The Bobcat true freshmen class Lady Griz legacy players Lexi Deden, the daughter of former UM standout Dawn Silliker, and Leia Beattie, the daughter of former Lady Griz all-league point guard Kelly Pilcher. Forwards Taylor Janssen and Katelynn Limardo along with guards Ava Ranson and Sydney Stensgard make up the rest of MSU’s freshmen class.

Wednesday, Binford signed three prospects: Lindsay Hein, a 6-6 center from Forsyth; Mia Hughes, a 5-10 forward from Woodinville, Wash., and Casey Ardern, a 5-5 guard from Wodonga, Victoria, Australia.

The Griz men’s roster features just two seniors — Michael Steadman, a preseason All-Big Sky selection despite never playing in the league after transferring from San Jose State head of last season; and Cam Satterwhite, a graduate transfer who started his career at Loyola-Chicago (and was on the team that went to the Final Four) before spending the last two years at Northern Arizona.

Montana forward Mack Anderson (23) drives on Montana State forward Jubrile Belo (13) in 2020/by Brooks Nuanez

The Griz juniors are Mack Anderson, a 6-foot-9 post from Bozeman who’s been a key energy guy off the bench the last two seasons; Cam Parker, a junior transfer from Sacred Heart who set the NCAA Division I single-game record with 24 assists in a contest last season; and Darius Henderson, a 6-foot-9 former transfer from UMass Lowell who sat out last season.

Montana’s sophomores include two third-year players in combo guards Eddie Egun and Freddie Brown III, who each have taken redshirts in their careers.. The sophomore class is also highlighted by the return of Derrick Carter-Hollinger, last season’s Big Sky Freshman of the Year after showing a knack for scoring in the lane and coming up with key rebounds. His classmates include Josh Vazquez, a 6-foot-3 guard who started 14 games and played 26 minutes a contest last season, and Kyle Owens, a cerebral and athletic 6-foot-8 stretch forward who acclimated to head coach Travis DeCuire’s complex defensive schemes latst season.

The freshmen class includes Robbie Beasley, a three-star recruit from Dublin, California who chose Montana over an offer from Nevada, among others; Brandon Whitney, a 6-foot-1 guard from Bishop Alemany High in Mission Hills, California; Josh Bannan, a brutish yet talented 6-foot-9, 225-pound post from Australian; and fellow Australian Hunter Clarke, a 6-foot-5 guard from down under.

The Griz made no additions to their roster on Wednesday and are not expected to sign any prospects until at least next spring.

The Montana State men exceeded expectations in their first season under Danny Sprinkle. The Bobcats posted their first winning record in a decade, their third winning mark of the 21st century and earned a bye in the Big Sky tournament despite the campaign serving as the first in an overhaul from the Brian Fish era.

Montana State head coach Danny Sprinkle coaching up guard Harald Frey (5)/by Brooks Nuanez

That team will need to replace unanimous first-team All-Big Sky selection Harald Frey along with starting senior Ladan Ricketts. The Bobcats also saw Quentin Guiliford, Zeke Quinlan, Zach Hobbs, Mychael Paulo, Brett Finn and Gavin Gundlach leave the program.

This iteration of the Bobcats returns senior center Devin Kirby, the only MSU player who played for Fish. It also features fifth-year senior point guard Xavier Bishop, who sat out last season after transferring from Missouri-Kansas City. Amin Adamu returns for his senior year, his second season at MSU. And Sprinkle added graduate transfer Abdul Mohamed, a graduate transfer from North Texas.

Junior center Jubrile Belo returns as a preseason All-Big Sky selection for MSU. His classmates include two new additions: junior college transfer guard Mike Hood and junior college transfer forward Bilal Shabazz.

Borja Fernandez returns after a breakout freshman season. Finn Fleute, a 6-foot-10 center from Germany, and Caleb Bellach, a local product who prepped at Manhattan Christian High, also return for their sophomores years under Sprinkle.

Sophomore Nick Gazelas, redshirt freshman Jesse Owens, and true freshmen Tyler Patterson, Carter Ash and Kellen Tynes round out MSU’s roster. Gazelas is a junior college transfer while Owens spent his first collegiate year as a football player at Montana.

Sprinkle signed four on Saturday: Alex Germer, a 6-foot-8 wing out of Missoula Sentinel; Sam Lecholat, a 6-foot-7 forward who was Wyoming Gatorade Player of the Year out of Sheridan; Patrick McMahon, a 6-foot-6 wing who was the Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches 4A Boys State Player of the Year as a junior; and Great Osobor, a 6-foot-8 swing man from Spain who is the latest international addition spearheaded by the recruiting of MSU assistant Chris Haslam, himself a native of the United Kingdom.

The Big Sky women’s league was by and large one devoid of seniors last season, other than the league champion Bobcats and a Lady Griz team led by all-league senior McKenzie Johnston, fifth-year senior shooter Taylor Goligoski and senior stretch forward Emma Stockholm.

Those three graduated, junior Gabi Harrington graduate transferred to Idaho and stud freshman Jamie Pickens, a former 4-star recruit, transferred to Carroll College.

Former Montana head coach Shannon Schweyen/ by Brooks Nuanez

The model for the Lady Griz has remained largely the same since the late 1970s. Robin Selvig took over as head coach in 1978 and held the position for 38 seasons, winning 865 games, 18 Big Sky championships and advancing to 21 NCAA Tournaments with rosters built largely out of in-state talent. When he retired four years ago, UM hired Shannon Schweyen, the best player in program history and an assistant under Selvig for 27 years before taking over. Most of the identity of the program in recruiting remained the same.

With interim coach Mike Petrino at the helm — Schweyen’s contract was not renewed after she lost in the team’s first game in the Big Sky Tournament for the third time in four years — the Lady Griz have pivoted their recruiting strategy and roster construction.

The Lady Griz return just one senior, fifth-year veteran Madi Schoening. Upon Schweyen’s dismissal, local product Kylie Frolich explored leaving the program but ultimately stayed for her junior year. Sophia Stiles, a former two-time Montana Gatorade Player of the Year from Malta, is back for her junior year despite battling injuries for most of her four years at Montana. Fourth-year junior Abby Anderson and third-year sophomore wing Carmen Gfeller also return as do Jordan and Shelby Schweyen, Shannon Schweyen’s daughters.  

The Lady Griz added two junior college transfers and a Division I transfer for the biggest haul of non-high school recruits in program history. Junior center Lauren Mills joins the roster from Iowa State. Sharpshooter Hannah Thurmon joins UM from Three Rivers College. Nyah Morris-Nelson, who like Mills hails from Australia and makes up the first duo of international players in program history, comes to Montana from Iowa Western.

Petrino and his staff were also able to maintain commitments and sign Havre product Kyndal Keller, the Montana Gatorade Player of the Year. Her freshmen class also includes Portland product Bria Dixson, along Montana products Willa Albrecht (Billings West), Joelnel Momberg (Rocky Boy) and Karsen Murphy (Glendive) round out the roster.

On Wednesday, the Lady Griz got a NOLI from Haley Huard, a 6-foot-1 sweet-shooting wing who was an all-state selection at Eastlake High in Seattle. She is the daughter of former Washington Husky and NFL quarterback Brock Huard. She is slated to play her senior season at Valor Christian, a prep school powerhouse in Denver. Montana also officially signed Dani Bartsch, a 6-foot-2 forward from Helena Capital who committed to UM as a sophomore.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

About Colter Nuanez

Colter Nuanez is the co-founder and senior writer for Skyline Sports. After spending six years in the newspaper industry with stops at the Missoulian, the Ellensburg Daily Record and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the former Washington Newspaper Association Sportswriter of the Year and University of Montana Journalism School graduate ('09) has cultivated a deep passion for sports journalism during his 13-year career covering the Big Sky Conference. In August of 2014, Colter and brother Brooks merged their passions of writing and art to found Skyline Sports.

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