A mixed bag this year for MSU athletics

The 2015-16 athletic season started with a bang when sophomore Mac Bignell wrecked the Fort Lewis running back to kick off the Gold Rush game with a hit that eventually ended up as a number one play on Sportscenter top ten. Though the football team started off the athletic year with the big play, it was other sports that stole the limelight.  

For most Bobcat fans the 2015 football season will be remembered as the last in the legendary coaching career of Rob Ash. With the 5-6 record and the third straight loss to the University of Montana, Athletic Director Peter Fields and MSU President Waded Cruzado announced the termination of Ash’s contract. He left as the winningest coach at MSU with a record of 70-38 and three Big Sky Championships.

The Bobcat volleyball team welcomed a new head coach this season. JJ Riley cames to the Bobcats to revive a struggling program. This year’s rebuilding volleyball team only won three games, one of which was against instate rival University of Montana. The team looks to come back better next year with two junior college transfers and six freshman.

Marcus Colbert, four-year starting point guard, led the Bobcat men’s basketball team for the last few seasons, but this year he passed the torch to freshman phenom Tyler Hall. During Hall’s debut season he averaged 32 minutes per game, 19.2 points per game and five rebounds. He featured in an ESPN highlight after the Bobcats made 25 threes, eight of which came from Hall, beating Northern Arizona 101-58. His impressive season earned him Big Sky Freshman of the Year honors and joined Colbert on the all-league second team. Overall the team finished 14-16 with a conference record of 9-8, doubling their win total from last year. In his second season at the helm Coach Brian Fish imprint on this program is starting to take shape. Players such as sophomore Zach Green and freshman Sam Neumann were key contributors during the season. The men’s team looks to make the same jump next year — much like the women’s team did this year.

With the addition of NBA legend and Hall-of-Famer John Stockton as an assistant coach, head coach Tricia Binford and the women’s basketball team made 2016 one to remember. After going 15-15 the last two seasons they drastically improved to an impressive 21-10 overall record. They dominated conference opponents 14-4, good enough to earn them the regular season Big Sky Conference Championship. However they lost in the first game of conference tournament and were not invited to the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately, their regular season performance was good enough to get them invited to the NIT. The impressive season earned Binford Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, senior Jasmine Hommes received Big Sky MVP, junior Peyton Ferris Second-Team All Big Sky and junior Riley Nordgaard earned an Honorable Mention.

The emergence of the Bobcat ski team continues with impressive finishes at the NCAA Skiing Championships. MSU team took fourth overall in the competition and the men’s team won both the Alpine and Giant Slalom and the women won Giant Slalom as well. While the most impressive individual performance came from junior Anika Miller winning the five-kilometer freestyle with a time of 13:06.2. It had been since 1978 when Dan Brelsford captured the slalom crown that the Bobcats recorded a first place finish. She is the first ever female from Montana State to win an individual title in ski competitions. The Bobcats had two second finishes as well with junior David Neuhauser and sophomore Benedicte Lyche both in men’s and women’s giant slalom respectively. MSU ended the season with 11 All-Americans.

From the Bobcat track and field squad, junior Kaylee Schmitz broke the school record in the women’s 800 meter, with an altitude-adjusted time of 2:08.44. The previous record was set in 1998 by Christine Otte. Two weeks after she broke the record, Schmitz won the Big Sky Championship in the 800.

On April 15 juniors Laura Middel and Naomi Holopainen from the women’s tennis team finished off their no. 1 doubles match against Eastern Washington 7-5. This win solidified their dominance this season and the pair went undefeated in Big Sky Conference play. Their 11-0 record is a first in MSU history.
There were plenty of ups and downs this season for Bobcat fans. Expectations are always high for each sport. While many teams lived up to these expectations, others simply didn’t. This athletic year showed that a many of the critical pieces are there in these programs, they just need to make that next step. With new coaches coming in, many still establishing themselves and a new athletic director still to be named, the future looks uncertain but promising. But as we were witness to this season, no matter what happens it’s likely to be entertaining.