Big Sky Conference

INTERNATIONAL FLAIR: Idaho State’s stars come from all over the world


To hear Seton Sobolewski tell it, if you are willing to move from the other side of the globe to Pocatello, Idaho, you are “probably a pretty independent person.”

Idaho State’s core four come from all over the planet. And this season in Pocatello, the Bengals came together like never before, completing one of the great seasons in the perennially successful program’s history thanks in large part to the meshing of young women from countries as far as 8,500 miles away from Idaho State’s campus.

The brilliance of the cultural convergence came together in one moment earlier this month, fully displaying the singular unit this Idaho State women’s basketball has become as ISU punched its ticket to the Big Dance.

As confetti fell from the rafters of Idaho Central Arena, the Bengals celebrated a drubbing of a rival to extend a thoroughly dominant season during unorthodox times.

Diaba Konate did snow angles in the middle of the key under the basket she had just spent 40 minutes pouring points into, the magnitude of the moment that is heading to the NCAA Tournament fully sinking in for the native of Paris, France.

Idaho State players celebrating after beating Idaho/by Brooks Nuanez

Dora Goles belted out the words to American hip-hop songs, her journey of resilience complete after the Croatian suffered a horrific knee injury at the same Big Sky Tournament years earlier in the Biggest Little City in the World.

Callie Bourne finally earned the accolades she deserved, landing on the All-Tournament team, an acknowledgement that caused the hard-nosed, tough Australian to break from her mold and flash an endearing smile.

And as the public address announcer made the final All-Tournament team announcement, Estafania Ors had a look of genuine surprise on her face when the ISU super senior earned tournament MVP honors.

The announcement helped bring full circle a journey that started in Spain, hit a high point when she almost shot Idaho State to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman, ran into a speed bump when Ors blew out her knee just seven games into last season and returned to success when she simply could not miss during the first half of an unexpected but satisfying decimation of rival Idaho to help ISU claim the Big Sky Tournament title for the first time in 10 years.

“I can’t describe that moment,” Konate said with a laugh following ISU’s 22nd victory this season, an 84-49 lambasting of a short-handed Vandals squad. “Personally, I was really happy. Everybody was really happy. Something was happening in my head. I just couldn’t’ believe it. We had to seize the moment and it doesn’t happen every time so that was really special.”

Idaho State head coach Seton Sobolewski coaching Dora Goles (5) and Diaba Konate during the spring of 2020/by Brooks Nuanez

Sobolewski earned Co-Big Sky Coach of the Year honors this season after leading Idaho State to its fourth Big Sky regular-season title and its fourth trip to the Big Dance. Sunday, Idaho State takes on Kentucky of the SEC. The Bengals are a No. 13 seed playing against the fourth-seeded Wildcats in San Antonio, Texas. Tip-off is 2:15 p.m. MST.

“We try not to look too far ahead,” Sobolewski said during the regular season. “We try to just look to the next game. Our goal structure for our team is to win the next game. We don’t have long term goals. We don’t have anything else to talk about. We just concentrate the next game.”

Ors was the first of the international foursome to blossom in Pocatello, becoming just the second Bengal ever to win Big Sky Freshman of the Year honors during the 2016-2017 season. That season, the Bengals won three games at the Big Sky Tournament in Reno, Nevada before falling to pseudo rival Montana State in the championship game thanks in large part to Ors’ silky shooting stroke.

The following season, Goles, a slick combo guard who earned Newcomer of the Year in the Croatian A1 Senior League as a teenager, transferred from Western Wyoming junior college and became an instant starter. But her sophomore season ended in agony as she suffered a torn ACL in the waning seconds of ISU’s season-ending loss to eventual tournament champion Northern Colorado in the semifinals of the last Big Sky Tournament played in Reno.

Idaho State guard Callie Bourne looks to create vs. Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez

Bourne, one of the best guards in her age group while growing up in Canberra, Australia, joined the Bengals before the 2018-2019 season, extending the string of several Australians who have found success under Sobolewski. She first came to America during his prep days when her traveling team came to the United States on a tour that included making stops at Duke, North Carolina and Baylor.

“I thought to myself, wow, this is really cool, I really want to come do this,” Bourne said.

And Konate, an unfathomably athletic yet raw prospect who needed a redshirt year and a freshman year with a long leash before blossoming into the dominant player she is now, is perhaps the best developmental project of Sobolewski and his staff’s 13 seasons at Idaho State. 

“If you are going to come here from Australia, France, Croatia, Spain, you are a pretty independent person,” Sobolewski said with a smile. “You are not scared to leave home. You know how to take care of yourself. So we have this group that came here together and they really enjoy it and enjoy each other’s company.”

Ryan Johnson, who has been on Sobolewski’s staff for seven seasons, was once a coach for the United States Basketball Academy and the Netscouts USA All Stars, leading teams against the FIBA world national teams of China, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Lithuania, New Zealand and Poland.

Idaho State senior Dora Goles shoots one of her vintage floaters at the Big Sky Tournament/ by Brooks Nuanez

His international contacts have helped the Bengals recruit players like Ors, Bourne, and former All-Big Sky guard Brooke Blair. Someone like Goles, who was set to go to a Division III school in Maine before suffering her first of two ACL injuries that rerouted her through junior college in Wyoming, just happened to land on ISU’s radar by chance.

“It’s a blend of some great recruiting contacts between Ryan and I and some of it is coincidence,” Sobolewski said. “We’ve been like this for awhile and learning about all the different cultures and how they operate and the types of foods they eat and what they believe in, it’s been very interesting and fun.

“What’s amazing to me is how well they all get along. Even though they are from different places, they have similar personalities and they have similar goals and they operate similarly.”

The good-natured Goles has the ability to keep things light among the team. The unassuming Ors helps lead by displaying an authentic humility. Konate is the floor general even if she’s the youngest of Idaho State’s outstanding international foursome.

“It’s been awesome and so interesting,” Goles said. “We learn so much about different cultures, different languages and we all try to learn different things about each other. I think us being all different helps us learn about each other and makes us a better unit. All of us being different brings something different to the table whether it’s basketball or personality and I think we are all just the perfect match.”

And Bourne, who’s bullish mentality is easy to see when watching ISU in person, has risen to become the heart and soul of the team, establishing herself as the best two-way player in the Big Sky Conference, all-conference team snubs be damned.

“We aren’t a team as much as we are a family,” Bourne said. “We are so international and we are so from all over the place that we kind of have our little family. We spend so much times with each other. I don’t want to admit to half the team that I love them but I do.”

The meshing of cultures has been crucial, particularly during a pandemic. To watch Idaho State play is the watch unquestionably the most unselfish team in the Big Sky Conference, men or women. Goles, a first-team All-Big Sky selection and the team’s leading scorer on the way to winning the outright regular-season league title, scored seven points in the championship game rout of Idaho yet ISU finished with its third-highest single-game point total as a team of the entire season.

Senior post Delaney Moore, a 6-footer from Gilroy, California who floated in and out of the starting lineup this season, averaged 14 points per game during the tournament, finishing 8-of-10 from the floor in each win over Portland State in the quarterfinals and Idaho in the championship, respectively.

Bourne scored 18 or more points in conference games against Sacramento State, Portland State and Montana. She could be one of the leading scorers in the conference but instead prefers to impact the game in other ways, averaging 10 points and 8.9 rebounds per contest while playing some of the best perimeter defense in the conference

Idaho State senior Estafania Ors/ by Brooks Nuanez

Ors averaged 9.5 points per game as a freshman and more than 12 points per contest the next two years. She averaged 10.2 as a fifth-year senior coming off an injury, a “dip” in scoring that likely costing her a fourth All-Big Sky nod. But she drilled six consecutive shots and scored 17 first-half points to vault the Bengals to a 19-point halftime lead in the Big Sky Tournament championship on her way to finishing with a season-high 21 points and tournament MVP honors.

“The Idaho State of the past was all about how they defend, how they grind, how physical they are, how they make you work for every shot,” said Montana State 1th-year head coach Tricia Binford, who shared Coach of the Year honors with Sobolewski this season. “They are as good as they’ve ever been with having all those seasoned kids on the floor.

“They have been spreading the floor a little bit more and they have some athletes out there they want to play off of. Seton has always done such a great job with this team, that they are always going to be a hard matchup and a battle.”

Goles led the team with 12.4 points per game, barely scratching the top 10 of the league’s scoring leaders. Konate averaged 11.7 points per game, saving her best for last in a 20-point outburst in the league tournament title game.

Idaho State guard Diaba Konate (23) throws a no look pass vs Northern Colorado/by Brooks Nuanez

“They are a really unselfish team,” Binford said. “Sometimes, the teams that are the best are the ones that don’t get all the players of the week. They are the ones taking the best shots for the group and this ISU team speaks volumes to that.”

“Across the board, they are just solid. They don’t play anyone that doesn’t consistently produce. You just have to really keep everybody in check.”

Bourne still laughs about the differences in American cuisine compared to Australian fare — “You guys put cheese on EVERYTHING!” she said with a giggle last month — and both Ors and Konate maintain heavy accents that Bourne said are still sometimes difficult to understand.

Goles also comments on the eating habits of people in the United States, specifically that there are so many fast food and takeout options whereas in Croatia, “you eat all three meals at home, period.”

Sunday, all variety will be an aside to the convergence of chemistry that has gotten Idaho State to this point. The Bengals enter the game against Kentucky as single-digit underdogs, meaning the league champions have a real chance to win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in a generation.

“We are very fortunate to have the players we have on this team and to come together like we have,” Sobolewski said.

Photos by Brooks Nuanez. All Rights Reserved.

Idaho State head coach Seton Sobolewski cuts down the net as 2021 Big Sky Conference Champions/by Brooks Nuanez

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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