The Brawl of the Wild series has been a long fought exhibition between MSU and University of Montana. For as long as the two schools have been around, MSU has lost this rivalry game more often than not. That all changed this year.
In the final game of the regular season, MSU football stunned rival University of Montana with a dominant 24-17 victory. This was a big victory for the Cats. The Brawl of the Wild games have been going since 1897, and in those 116 matchups, MSU has only won 38 contests in total, including the victory this year. But that win marked a subtle shift in the rivalry that began to cross over into other sporting events as well.
At home against UM on Feb. 25, the Bobcat men’s basketball team surprised the Griz with a 9-point victory (78-69) behind sophomore guard Tyler Hall’s 37-point outburst. The women’s basketball team, which had a successful 25-7 season, easily handled the Griz in both their matchups of this season.
MSU Track and Field beat the Griz in Missoula, and the women’s volleyball team, who only won 19 percent of their games this year, defeated UM in Bozeman 3-2. Women’s Tennis also thumped the Griz 6-1 in their sole matchup, giving MSU the overall victory for the year.
All in all, no matter how well MSU teams competed within the rest of the conference, MSU had UM’s number across the collegiate sports board this year.
President Waded Cruzado expressed her pride for the MSU community at large in relation to the recent success. “It is great to see our team win against the Grizzlies and that gives us all an enormous sense of pride,” she said. Cruzado went on to reflect on how these successes weren’t always on the field: “We can also be proud that our student-athletes are students first. We want them to succeed in the classroom, earn their degree and be well-prepared for a career after graduation.”
Cruzado wasn’t the only one to make these reflections. Students have noticed as well. “I feel like the academic nature of MSU is finally lending itself to sports as well, and you see that culminating in our sports [teams’] successes this year,” Adam Myers, a junior majoring in education, said.
The recent success in athletics is part of a bigger picture for both schools. UM, among a litany of recent problems, is currently facing major enrollment issues. University of Montana announced an overall enrollment headcount of 12,419 students in the fall of 2016. This represents a 4.8 percent decrease in total enrollment, and according to the Missoulian, a 24 percent drop in total enrollment since 2010. By comparison, MSU’s 2016 fall semester had a total enrollment of 16,440 students.
Certainly the plethora of factors affecting UM and benefiting MSU aren’t the only reasons for Bobcat athletics’ recent line of success stories, but it is hard to deny it’s a piece of the pie. This recent success might just be the start of a new sports dynamic within the state, one that could continue to push MSU in the coming years. “It’s really promising,” Myers said. “Any opportunity you have to be proud of where you go to school, of what your student body is doing, you take it, you treasure those moments.”