The Montana women’s golf team was picked third in the Big Sky Conference preseason poll that was released Tuesday.
Standing between Montana and its first Big Sky championship since 2006 are two teams that collected all 12 first-place votes in the poll: Idaho, which earned eight and was voted first, and Portland State, which picked up the other four and was voted second.
Idaho, which returns to the Big Sky this year, was picked first in the poll after finishing runner-up at the WAC championship tournament twice in the last three years.
Portland State won last year’s Big Sky title by 15 strokes over the field and has won the championship three of the last five years, with a runner-up finish in 2013.
However, the Grizzlies beat both teams at their final tournament of the fall. Montana defeated Idaho by nine strokes and Portland State by 14 at the Pat Lesser Harbottle Invitational at Lakewood, Washington, in October, and the Grizzlies did so without junior Hayley Bingham and redshirt sophomore Alexa Schendelman, both of whom were injured but are now close to full health.
At full health, Montana should have as good a five-player roster as any team in the Big Sky, and it starts at the top. Schendelman (74.4), sophomore Barbora Bakova (75.8) and senior Tara Green (75.9) all had fall scoring averages below 76.
Schendelman tied for fifth at 4-over at the Oregon State Invitational, and Bakova tied for fourth at 1-under at the Washington State Cougar Cup. Green was the team’s top finisher at its other three tournaments last fall.
Filling out Montana’s roster are Bingham, junior Phoebe Tan, sophomore Amanda Kahn and freshman Hailey Hoagland.
Montana will open its spring schedule in early March at the Dr. Donnis Thompson Invitational at Kaneohe, Hawaii, and also compete that month at the Sacramento State Invitational at Roseville, California, and the Montana State Bobcat Invitational at Goodyear, Arizona.
The Grizzlies will take a break from tournament stroke play and go head-to-head against Portland State in match play on April 4. That will take place two days before the Wyoming Cowgirl Classic and be played at the Ocotillo Golf Resort in Chandler, Arizona, site of the Big Sky championship two weeks later.
Montana finished fourth at the Big Sky championship last spring, up from an eighth-place finish in 2013. The Grizzlies have finished either fourth or fifth at the championship seven of the eight years since winning the title in 2006.