MISSOULA — This year's Montana Lady Griz team has a mix of veterans and youth in Brian Holsinger's second year as head coach.
The younger players serve as the future of the program, and that future is plenty bright with the trio of Alex Pirog, Mack Konig and Libby Stump all getting thrown into the fire with major minutes at the college level right away.
"I think initially it was really a lot of like anxiousness and excitement, nervousness," said Pirog, a native of Highlands Ranch, Colorado. "It's kind of just like a good mix of all of those emotions, but it's exciting to know that you're needed and that you have a role to fill, and so I think that makes it really special."
It's rare for any college program to see so many true freshman getting into the mix the way these three have. Pirog, Stump and Konig all came to UM as part of a freshman class that also included Missoula walk-on Lauren Dick and Melstone native Draya Wacker, who is missing this season due to injury.
While adjusting to the game's speed, attention to detail, and all of the challenges of being a student-athlete, the first year is always — to put it mildly — crazy.
But this trio have been learning on the fly while also getting time on the court, but they were ready for the challenge.
"It's kind of crazy. I don't know if I really prepared for it, just try to get ready, try to stay ready, get shots up a lot, watch some film," said Stump, who hails from Ferndale, Washington. "I still feel like I'm learning tons every single day, and I'm like wow this is so much information coming at me, so just grateful to have really great coaches and support around me and great teammates to help me through it."
Konig's pedigree coming in was vast, as an ESPN Top 100 recruit, plus time spent playing for the U16 Austrian national team. This year, she's working as a backup point guard for the Lady Griz and is averaging 6.8 points and 2.0 assists per game in 20.8 minutes per contest.
She also jumped between living in Canada and the United States, and all of that life experience has helped her be prepared once she got to Missoula.
"I think that coming here I was a more excited just to experience it all," said Konig, a native of Milton, Ontario, Canada. "I wasn't too nervous. You are able to come across really interesting scenarios and fight through it just because of that experience I had beforehand, and so I was just really happy."
Stump has emerged as a spark plug off of the bench as one of the team's leading scorers with 10.1 points per game, and her no-fear mentality coupled with a deadly, leaning mid-range jumper, she's been able to see her role increase each game.
"I honestly love that role. I got the opportunity to do it a lot in my high school career," Stump said. "It's just kind of fun, you have nothing to lose, you just go out, can attack these people, they're not ready for it, try to get some pull ups and some buckets in there. It's a really fun way to play in my opinion."
Pirog has added depth in the post for UM, and already battled through adversity with a brief shoulder injury, but is back healthy and ready to continue supplementing Montana's presence in the paint. She's averaging 2.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
"It's highs and lows for sure with this whole process, and I think that's what makes it so great," Pirog said. "You can constantly be growing with it from those because if you're not having the lows too, you're not learning much, so it can't always be a high, high, and so I think that's what makes the whole process really special."
And while it's a big opportunity and a lot to take in for freshmen, none of them have to do it alone, as they're experiencing the highs, lows, successes and growing pains together as recruits the same age and from the same class.
"I think it creates a really special bond for sure," Konig said. "I'm really lucky to have such great people around, me especially these freshmen that are around me. They're just really special people. They're high character, they're strong, they're caring, it makes it really easy to kind of just be away from home and experience all of this."