Brian Holsinger interviewing

Montana women's basketball coach Brian Holsinger talks with the media outside the Adams Center in Missoula. Holsinger has been pleased with progress made in his first two months at the helm.

MISSOULA — Determined to kick-start the sputtering Montana women's basketball program, coach Brian Holsinger is wasting no time with his overhaul.

Two assistant coaches and six players are gone from last season when the Lady Griz lost in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament for the third year in a row. Jordan Sullivan has been retained as an assistant coach while Joslyn Tinkle and Nate Harris have been hired.

The list of players is at 11 — seven holdovers and four newcomers — and Holsinger intends to add several more in the coming weeks.

But that's not what makes Montana women's basketball so intriguing right now. It's Holsinger's relentless drive and conviction going with his instincts, regardless of how things were done in the past.

"I think I was born to lead," the coach told the Missoulian and 406mtsports.com this week. "Having an opportunity to lead here with the Lady Griz is such an honor. I've learned a lot of things not to do and a lot of things to do and then I'm going to be myself within that. I know what it takes to win and we will do it the right way."

Holsinger caught the attention of longtime Lady Griz fans in April when news came that six members of the 2020-21 roster would not be returning. Four of those are Montanans.

Another Treasure Stater,  Billings Central senior-to-be Mya Hansen, rescinded her verbal commitment to play at UM last week. The versatile guard left the door open to still possibly coming to Missoula, but the move did leave longtime Montana fans scratching their heads once again.

Does Holsinger have a different attitude about Montana-raised players than his Montana coaching predecessors? Nah, he's just a little more choosy, knowing full well that hard work and performance, not hometown ties, produce success.

"I hope to get the Jill Bartas and Joslyn Tinkles to come here," he said, referring to Treasure State high school legends that took their basketball talents out of state for college.

"I'll be honest with you, the priority is the state, but the priority is also the Big Sky Conference championship. If we feel like any player in this state can help us win a Big Sky championship, we will go after them with everything we've got. I want the best players here. Then from there, we will go on and scour the whole world if we have to."

For the seven holdovers from last season, Holsinger represents a third coaching change in three years. Shannon Schweyen directed the team two seasons ago and Mike Petrino took the reins as interim skipper last season.

Holsinger has had four weeks left to work with the seven holdovers — a group that includes returning starters Carmen Gfeller, Abby Anderson and Sophia Stiles and super-sub Kylie Frohlich. Their eagerness to pick up on his way of doing things has made an impression.

"I loved pretty much everything they've showed me in the first four weeks," he offered. "We've done a lot of shooting. I'm a real big fundamental guy — ball handling, passing, shooting, finishing and understanding the game and learning how to play.

"They've showed unbelievable improvement. They've been through a lot with different coaches and every coach has their different way of doing things. I have my own style. The best advice I ever got was be yourself."

Holsinger welcomed incoming freshman forward Dani Bartsch of Helena and freshman guard Haley Huard of Colorado last week. He'll have to wait a little longer before welcoming his other two newcomers, junior transfer Katerina Tsineke of Greece and freshman Lisa Kiefer of Germany.

Eleven players may not seem like enough come October, especially when you consider the Lady Griz had 15 when Holsinger was hired. But eleven is actually not far off what the coach prefers.

"I tend to carry a smaller roster than most, just in general," he offered. "I think it's impossible to play 15 players. How do you keep 15 players happy with the transfer portal and all these things going? It's just really hard.

"It's funny, I always tell people that ideally I'd like to have 12 players. You have six baskets in a gym and that's two a hoop. If you could guarantee no injuries, that would be ideal. But that's not the case usually."

In Sullivan, Harris and Tinkle, Holsinger has three assistants that have been around basketball for a long time. But does it concern him that only he and Sullivan have been around the NCAA Division I game the past three seasons?

Nah, not really.

"Joslyn (Tinkle) has been around basketball her whole entire life," he said of the former Missoula Big Sky standout, who played at Stanford and on the pro level. "Obviously with who she has been around and Stanford, she has a great feel already, even though she's been working a normal (sales and marketing) job, so to speak.

"Nate has been recruiting in Texas and his connections there and in Minnesota are really good. It's been three years since he's been at the DI level, but his experience as a head coach (at Angelo State) is so valuable."

Holsinger and his staff have four weeks left to work with players on a limited basis. Then it will be up to the athletes to put in the work on their own in preparation for the 2021-22 campaign.

"First week of practice, the girls were nervous and they were going as hard as they could," Holsinger said playfully. "Then it's like the second or third week and it's like, 'OK, when does the newness wear off?'"

It's probably gone by now — at least for the holdovers. And the fact that Holsinger is still "unbelievably happy" with how things are going should give Lady Griz fans reason to be excited about the future.

Notes: The Lady Griz will start their first camp Friday. Elite teens will have a chance to show their stuff in front of the Montana staff. An advanced skills camp will be held Saturday and Sunday and a kids camp is slated for July 13-16. For more information or to register, log on to ladygrizcamp.com.

Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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