For the fifth straight year, it was one and done at the Big Sky Conference tournament for the Montana Lady Griz, and now, they head into the offseason looking to build on their youth to get back to their winning ways.
It was up and down in Brian Holsinger's second year as head coach as UM finished 14-16 on the season, and his disappointment was evident after the Lady Griz lost in the quarterfinal round of the tournament.
"I hope it hurts, to be honest. I hope it hurts. It has to hurt enough to make changes, right?" Holsinger said. "I'll accept responsibility more than anybody. I have wonderful kids to coach. For whatever reason, I couldn't quite get them over the edge in a lot of games this year. There's a lot of different factors. We have to get better in some areas in order to win these games versus what the outcome was today and we just weren't quite there most of the season."
The Lady Griz went 4-8 in a rugged nonconference schedule, and started out Big Sky play hit or miss early on, before a lineup change gave them some life as they went 10-8 in league play. The Lady Griz were swept by rival Montana State, but showed their mettle with wins over Northern Arizona and Sacramento State this season, teams that went head-to-head in the Big Sky championship game.
After inserting sophomore Dani Bartsch and freshman Mack Konig into the starting lineup mid-way through conference play, UM won four straight games but sputtered down the stretch, losing four of their last five games.
"We haven't won enough in my opinion in the second year," Holsinger said. "Program is not where it should be in my opinion yet. The third year will be a big tell-tale. We'll be super young again but lots of talent coming in, so I'm excited about the future, disappointed in the results. I'm a defensive guy, we did not play defense like we should've all year. We've got to improve in that area and we will."
UM was a mix of vets and younger players this year, with freshmen Libby Stump and Konig showing they were ready for college out of the gates. Forward Alex Pirog also saw the court early for Montana.
As the program moves forward, their development will be paramount this offseason.
"A lot of growth this year. I'm super excited to see just how our young players continue to develop," senior forward Carmen Gfeller said. "They got a lot of experience under their belt this year. I think we have some really great incoming freshmen that are just going to continue to build this program up and so being a part of it is super special and I'm feeling positive about our future with the Lady Griz.
"That's just something that we've been trying to work through every single year that I've been here and I'm grateful for the opportunity to come back and get another shot at it, but every team is different, and this is a team that I love so much, every individual person and player and I would've loved to keep competing as long as possible with them."
The Lady Griz will lose a prolific scorer in Sammy Fatkin, whose roller-coaster college journey came to a close in Boise, but it's one she's grateful for.
"I think proud is the perfect word. We've been through a lot of ups and downs, me and Carm, in our time here but all I can say is the program is moving in the right direction," Fatkin said. "I'm really proud of where it's going. There's nothing but positivity happening here. We're proud of our young kids, I think we faced a lot. We were right there in a lot of games this year. And so I think this team can only grow from that, I'm really excited for their future. I think nothing but good things are coming.
"I'm just blessed to be a part of the last two years because the last two years this program is moving where it's supposed to be and happy to be a part of it."
While Fatkin is gone, Gfeller already announced she'll be back for one more year.
Bartsch emerged as a reliable starter this year while Gina Marxen also played a big role after returning to basketball and joining UM, plus role players like Keeli Burton-Oliver and Haley Huard will be more experienced, so the Lady Griz return plenty of familiar faces for next year.
Montana also has three incoming freshmen for next season in guard Macy Donarski of La Crosse, Wisconsin, guard Macey Huard from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, and guard Adria Lincoln of Monroe, Washington.
UM was a preseason No. 2 pick this year, and after falling short of expectations, there's no time to waste heading into next year.
"You saw flashes of it, we weren't consistent but I couldn't be prouder of these guys," Holsinger said. "We are building something special and it takes time. Everybody wants it to go faster, I want it to go faster. I hate losing, these guys hate losing. But sometimes you have to go through these things that hurt in order to get to where you want to go.
"This is our first recruiting class since I've been here and it's a building process. It's never as fast as you want it. It just never is. I really expected more out of our team and myself this year. It's funny because you have to go through some of these things, these close losses, these things that these experiences that teach you so much that Nothing like losing and making mistakes do.
"I think for us it's a real growth year. We obviously have tons of potential. We've beaten pretty much almost everybody in the conference and had chances to beat everybody and didn't finish and so we have to learn how to finish and take the next step next year. In our third year, we'll have more talent and we'll have a better understanding for sure defensively how to be successful."