MISSOULA — The Montana women's basketball team will open Big Sky Conference play on Dec. 2 at home against Sacramento State, the league announced Monday.
The Big Sky released the schedule for all its women's league games. Montana, who has a new head coach in Brian Holsinger, is looking to improve on its sixth-place finish last winter.
Teams will play a 20-game slate, facing every other conference team both home and away. The Big Sky Conference tournament will open on March 7 in Boise, Idaho.
Montana's post-Christmas schedule will begin at Idaho State on Dec. 30 against the team that won both the regular-season and tournament titles last season. The Bengals went 22-4 overall in 2020-21, 15-2 in league, and will be the heavy favorites to repeat when the preseason polls are announced this fall.
Montana’s women’s-men’s day-night doubleheaders against Montana State will be played in Bozeman on Jan. 8 and in Missoula on Feb. 26.
Montana will head to Boise after closing the regular season on the road, against the teams the Lady Griz first faced in early December to begin league: Northern Colorado and Sacramento State.
It will be a year of new faces in the Big Sky, at least on the benches. Five of the league’s 11 teams will be under new head coaches.
The most high-profile hire was at Montana, where Holsinger, formerly an assistant at Oregon State, will attempt to return the Lady Griz back to the prominence they enjoyed for decades under Robin Selvig.
Montana has not finished better than a tie for fourth in the Big Sky the last six seasons and has won just two tournament games.
The Lady Griz, as the No. 6 seed, went out quietly last March, falling to No. 11 Sacramento State 65-58 in the first round in Boise.
Holsinger, hired in mid-April, immediately went about overhauling the Lady Griz roster. Just seven players who saw minutes last season return.
Headlining those returners are senior Abby Anderson and junior Carmen Gfeller, both voted third-team All-Big Sky last season.
Also in the five-player senior class are Sophia Stiles, Kylie Frohlich and Nyah Morris-Nelson, plus Sammy Fatkin, who is back after last suiting up for the Lady Griz in 2019-20.
Returning underclassmen are sophomores Kyndall Keller and Willa Albrecht.
Holsinger added an upperclassman transfer, Katerina Tsineke, who played two seasons at East Carolina and will be a junior, and will be welcoming in four true freshmen.
Dani Bartsch, of Helena, and Haley Huard, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., signed last November. Lisa Kiefer, of Marburg, Germany, and Lamprini Polymeni, of Thessaloniki, Greece, were added in the spring.
Holsinger retained assistant coach Jordan Sullivan from the previous coaching staff and added Nate Harris and Joslyn Tinkle.
Eastern Washington, Northern Colorado, Portland State and Sacramento State also will be under new head coaches in 2021-22.
Joddie Gleason, formerly the associate head coach at Seattle, takes over at Eastern Washington for Wendy Schuller, who coached the Eagles the previous 20 seasons.
Jenny Huth, who was at UNC for three years, departed Northern Colorado following the season to take one of the openings on Oregon State’s staff created by Holsinger’s departure.
Arriving in Greeley is Kristen Mattio, who was formerly at West Texas A&M. One of her first moves was to hire Geoff Golden, who founded the BC Denver Basketball Club, away from Montana State.
One player Mattio won’t have is Alisha Davis, who won Big Sky MVP honors last season as a sophomore at Northern Colorado.
Davis announced via Twitter in April that she was moving on, possibly to a collegiate future that does not include basketball.
The league’s only in-house hire came at Portland State, where Chelsey Gregg was elevated from associate head coach after Lynn Kennedy departed for McNeese State.
The other new coach is Mark Campbell at Sacramento State. Campbell, who spent the last seven years at Oregon, replaces Bunky Harkleroad, who led the Hornets for eight seasons.
Of the six returning head coaches, three have built the programs that everyone else is trying to catch, taking over the role that Montana held for so long.
Seton Sobolewski, who has had good teams for most of his time at Idaho State, had his best last season.
The Bengals won the league at 15-2 and crushed No. 2 Idaho 84-49 in the tournament title game behind 58.5 percent shooting.
ISU’s five starters, all of whom are expected to be back, scored 72 points in the championship game on 32-of-45 shooting.
Sobolewski converted that success into a five-year contract extension in the spring.
Also inking a new deal after the season, this one for four years, was Tricia Binford at Montana State.
After losing Golden to Northern Colorado, Binford filled the open assistant spot with Katie Bussey, the former Bobcat who scored 1,710 points during her career in Bozeman.
Taylor Pierce topped that total, putting up 1,934 points at Idaho as half of the Splash Sisters duo. She is now an assistant coach for the Vandals, who are coached by Jon Newlee.
Newlee’s teams have gone 58-17 in league the last four years, winning the regular-season title in 2018-19 and three times finishing second.