Yesterday we took a look at the ever changing landscape of the big sky conference as it relates to the University of Montana. In part two, we look at the women's side of things, where sports have only been going on for half as long as the men, and is an opportunity for much more than just competing on the field.
"It provides them lifelong lessons that they can learn when they move on into the business world in how to communicate with people, how to be a part of a team, to deal with adversity and challenges, and being out of their comfort zone. Those are all pieces that help a person in their growth," says Griz soccer coach Mark Plakorus.
While the growth of women's sports has been overwhelmingly positive, when the Big Sky first incorporated women's athletics, it certainly wasn't considered a win-win at first.
"It was very dramatic, it was kind of a catch-22 in a lot of respects, because there were a lot of sports eliminated eventually because of the financial aspect of it, specifically gymnastics, swimming, wrestling, and men's golf, those sports were all dropped," says UM Sports Information Director Dave Guffey.
While the programs have become consistently strong in a multitude of women's sports, one name has remained the same, and has helped bring recognition to other sports as well.
"You don't have to look any further than Robin Selvig, you talk about an absolute pioneer in women's basketball, a man that's going to win his 800th game next year," says UM Athletic Director Kent Haslam.
Women's sports at Montana, and Lady Griz basketball in particular, have a much higher attendance rate than others around the conference, and many feel they've seen that success, by recruiting Montana Natives.
"That's to me, probably the biggest difference. Not that Larry Krystkowiak wasn't from Montana, but in a lot of cases, the Lady Griz greats are from Montana, so the fan base has more of a natural connection," says Guffey.
As for the future of women's sports in the Big Sky for Montana…the Griz are in the process of hiring a softball coach, and developing that program for years to come.
"It also fits with what the conference is doing, it's now a conference championship sport, Portland State won the inaugural championship and got a birth into the College World Series, so it fit with what the other schools were doing already in our conference," says Haslam.