Montanan - Volume 13, Number 3
Hoop Dreamsby Nikki Judovsky
Lady Grizead Coach Robin Selvig questioned his teams ability at the start of the 1995 Lady Griz basketball season. "Carla (Beattie) and Sherri (Brooks) had to be healthy and we had to adjust our inside game," Selvig said. "We graduated our entire inside line."
His questions were answered by the second non-conference game, December 2, when the Lady Griz defeated 14th-ranked Western Kentucky, 67-65-the highest-ranked team The University of Montana had ever defeated. Two leading players also emerged: Junior forward Greta Koss paced Montana with twenty points and thirteen rebounds, while sophomore guard Skyla Sisco hit the game-winning free throws with only four seconds remaining.
Montana ended non-conference play with only three blemishes on its record. In the fourteen conference games, only a handful of teams came within striking distance as the Lady Griz defeated the likes of Boise State, Weber State and Montana State. "We beat some people pretty bad on the road," Selvig said. "We kept improving as we went along."
The only Big Sky loss was on February 24, when the Lady Griz succumbed to Boise State, 72-62, and lost Sisco, who went down with a knee injury. "We lost one of our best players," Selvig said. "Fortunately, we still had Sherri."
The Lady Griz carried on, winning the Big Sky tournament two weeks later with its trademark stingy defense. One of the nations best womens basketball teams, Montana ended its season with a 24-5 record-the teams sixteenth twenty-win season.
After Montana took its eleventh Big Sky Championship in fourteen years, North Carolina State cut Montanas NCAA tournament stay short, 77-68. The Lady Griz went down fighting. Senior guard Brooks, better known for her defense, led Montana on the finest offensive night of her career, scoring a career-best twenty-seven points while dishing out eleven assists.
Selvig said the Lady Grizs success was largely because of the playing ability of Brooks and the rest of the seniors. "We were an inconsistent shooting team this year, but our defense was the key for us," Selvig said. "When we were shooting the ball and playing good defense, we were a really good team."
This season, there was no Big Sky championship ring or regular season title for the Grizzly basketball team, but UM Head Coach Blaine Taylor was not disappointed. "I ask myself if the team could have worked harder, and I say, I dont think so." Taylor said. "The kids did all they could."
At the end of the regular season on March 2, Montana tied Weber State for second place-both were 10-4 in conference play. Montana State, however, clinched the Big Sky regular season title with an 11-3 record.
During the second half of the season, injuries cut short the Grizzlies shot at a Big Sky title. On February 17, with just one weekend of play remaining, Montana clawed its way into a first-place tie with Montana State, when major injuries claimed key players. "We got ourselves all the way to the brink of winning (the regular season title) and hosting the conference tournament," Taylor said. "But we just werent as healthy as we wouldve liked to have been come tournament time." The Grizzlies 84-75 loss against Idaho at the end of the regular season dashed Montanas hopes for the Big Sky regular season title. A week later, Idaho jolted the Grizzlies a second time, 72-67, ousting Montana in the first round of the Big Sky tournament.
Taylor said the team worked as hard as any hes coached, citing wins against Idaho State, Idaho and, in particular, the home game against Boise State. He added that "even though you feel for the seniors who wont have another chance, it was a very exciting season."
The Malta Connectionby Linda McCarthy
Surrounded by wheat fields, Malta is a quiet, sun-baked town, population 2,200, on U.S. Highway 2 along Montanas northern border. It has one main street, two grocery stores and eleven churches. It is a place where pickups rattle down streets, where farmers and ranchers gather in the Great Northern Coffeeshop. It is also the home of some of The University of Montanas finest women basketball players.
First came Linda Mendel in 1985. Next year Linda Cummings, one of the states best girls basketball players, will arrive. Currently, two top players for the Lady Griz claim Malta as a hometown: Greta Koss who arrived at UM in 1992 and Skyla Sisco in 93. This season Koss and Sisco racked up twenty-four points, twelve rebounds, six assists and four steals per game, leading the team to a 24-5 record and an eleventh appearance in the NCAA Championship.
"Both Greta and Skyla are great kids and talented basketball players," said womens basketball Head Coach Robin Selvig, another small-town Montana native (Outlook, population 226). "Both work very hard to improve all the time, and theyve both been great assets to our program."
"Coming to Missoula has been a great experience for me," said Koss, a junior who led Montana this season in both scoring and rebounding. She was named the Big Sky Conferences outstanding player after scoring a career-high thirty-two points in Montanas 72-60 title win over Weber State. "Playing basketball for Robin and experiencing the success weve had...prepared me to go out and get what I want."
Sisco, a sophomore who secured her second Big Sky all-conference award despite missing the final five games because of a knee injury, said shes "definitely tougher mentally." In 1995, Sisco was the first freshman in league history to earn first team honors and was named the Big Skys outstanding sixth player. Last summer she competed in the U.S. Olympic Festival in Denver.
Del Fried, Malta High Schools head coach for the last fifteen years, was key to Koss and Siscos success. Like Selvig, Fried has built a successful tradition of girls basketball in his community. "Maltas basketball program is a very good one, obviously," said Selvig. "Coach Fried has produced some talented players, and weve been both lucky and excited to get some of them here."
From 1991 to the present, Malta posted forty-seven straight conference victories and five consecutive conference titles. This year, despite losing its high school gymnasium to a fire December 24, Malta won both the boys and girls state class "B" basketball titles.
"The girls who have been successful here just love the game of basketball and work really hard on it," said Fried, who teaches government, history and geography. "Were fortunate to have basketball players with sound fundamentals up here. But God gave Greta and Skyla some great abilities, and they just wont accept second best."
Koss and Sisco started playing basketball in fifth grade and, after sharing the court for so many years, have developed an uncanny feel for each others game. "I think I know what Gretas going to do with the ball," Sisco said of her roommate. "Im sure its the same with her. Sometimes Im a little tricky, and people dont know when Im going to pass the ball or shoot. She knows that better than anyone."
"Ive seen Skylas moves longer than some of the others, so Im ready for her passes," Koss added. "Skylas the ultimate point guard. Shes a good passer, a good ball handler, and a good scorer. We have a good relationship, and we have good times off the court too." Both Koss and Sisco carry a 3.6 grade-point average and plan to further their education-Koss in physical therapy; Sisco in medicine.
Of all the games the two have played together, both chose the 1991 state title game, in which Malta defeated Fairfield 54-52 in double overtime, as their most memorable. "We both ended up fouling out," Koss said, "so we were sitting the bench praying for our teammates to pull it out."
Sisco says her favorite memories of Malta were nights at the gym with Koss. "We would stay late, just the two of us, shooting half-court shots and goofy lay-ups," Sisco said. "I loved that gym; I loved playing there. Were definitely gym rats. I dont think anyone loves the game more than Greta and I do."