This week the Big Sky Conference released its list of recipients for the league’s top individual accolades and to no one's surprise, it was full of Bobcats. The women's and men’s basketball teams snagged some of the league's most prestigious titles in preparation for this week’s Big Sky Conference tournament, with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. While for both teams the focus remains on the tournament, the accolades were a nice acknowledgement of success to conclude the regular season performances of these impressive individuals.
Representing the Big Sky champs, Head Coach Tricia Binford delivered in a big way in her 15th year at the helm of the program. Her effort on the recruiting trail and developing the roster was easy to recognize this season, leading her to being named the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year. Binford, a former standout player herself for past Big Sky conference member Boise State, has turned the MSU program into a premier mid-major women's basketball program since taking over in 2005. Based off of her current team's depth and this season’s recruiting class, MSU basketball will continue it’s reign of dominance for years to come.
If you need proof of how appealing Binford has made the program, just look to this year’s conference MVP, Bobcat senior forward Fallyn Freije. The preseason Big Sky MVP candidate transferred from the University of North Dakota to spend her last year of eligibility in Bozeman, even though she could have likely found a home nearly anywhere in the country. Her decision has paid off, as the Edmore, North Dakota native has averaged 13.7 points per game along with 7.7 rebounds, making it easy for the conference's coaches to tag her the league's top player.
Fellow senior guard Oliana Squires was listed on the Second-team All-conference team. Her career in Bozeman has been memorable for Bobcat fans, which she capped off with an impressive senior season. She will be best remembered for her versatility on the floor and ability to enhance the players around her. While she was a main component for the rest of the team’s success, she still averaged 11.5 points per game.
The Bobcats were also proud to see guard Darian White be named Big Sky Freshman of the Year after an explosive first year in the Brick. White, only the third Bobcat to be named Freshman of the Year, was deservingly added to the list after putting up 12.9 points per game and finishing second in the conference in steals, averaging 2.8 per contest.
Junior guard Tori Martell was appropriately named the Big Sky Reserve of the Year after the explosive performances she put on all season long. Finishing second in the conference in three-point field goal percentage shows how her presence was felt once she checked into the game.
Senior guard and local legend Harald Frey was named to the First-team All-conference list for the first time in his unforgettable career. Somewhat unknown as a recruit coming from Oslo, Norway, Frey proved to be one of the most impactful players in program history. Though never producing the numbers Tyler Hall put up for the acrobatic dunks of Keljin Blevins, Frey was an example of what the program is striving to become: a consistent competitor.
“When I was in the recruiting process and looking for my school, I didn’t want to find a place where I would only go for four years then never return again,” said Frey on his desire to leave an impact at MSU in his Cat close-up interview in the Jan. 30 edition of the Exponent. “I wanted a place that I could look back at and call a second home where I’ll be coming back for five, 10, 20 years and still have the same connections. So that’s what I want to build for people on the other side of their Bobcat career as well.”
Frey was the only player on the athletic directors search committee when MSU was looking for a new coach last year. His choice, Danny Sprinkle, seems to be the right guy for the job and has taken MSU basketball in an exciting new direction.
Jubrile Belo, a junior big man from London, England, was selected as the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year after averaging 13.1 points per contest and leading the team in rebounds. His past three performances all resulted in double-doubles which also gave him this season’s final Big Sky Player of the Week award. Though not as well known as Frey, his legend is surely growing as the big man with sports spectacles is sure to be a mismatch for most Big Sky Conference teams next season. With another year of development under his belt, look for Belo to join Frey in the ranks of professional basketball.
Though both the men’s and women’s teams received a fair amount of accolades, there were some questionable decisions on this year’s conference honor rolls. The conference left a big question mark by not promoting Freshman of the Year Darian White to at least Third-team All-conference to replace fellow freshman Beyonce Bea of Idaho, who was somehow included instead. Also notably missing were senior forwards Martha Kuderer and Blaire Braxton, who had arguably better seasons than a few people on the honor roll. Though they were snubbed from All-conference honors, they still should be proud of the incredible seasons they have had during their final year in Bozeman. Good luck to these individuals as they now go forward and compete for the ultimate team goal: a trip to the NCAA tournament.