MISSOULA — They've been a ray of sunshine in a mostly-dreary November for the Montana women's basketball team.
They're true freshmen Carmen Gfeller, Katie Mayhue and Jordyn Schweyen.
Back in October when practice started, none of the three even knew if they'd be playing this season. Then the option of redshirting went out the window for coach Shannon Schweyen.
"With our injuries and stuff right now, we're just going to have to rely on them doing some things for us," said Schweyen, whose team will open play in the 38th Lady Griz Classic Saturday at 2 p.m. against Northern Illinois. "That can be the joy of playing freshmen when they show up for you one night. But they may not the next night.
"Carmen I think has been really consistent for us in the last couple games. Jordyn and Katie have the two best shooting percentages from 3 for us. They definitely all have potential to score. And the one thing I've really enjoyed about them is they've been playing confident."
Gfelller, a 6-foot-1 forward from Colfax, Washington, averages a team-high 11 points per game. She has also been the most consistent shooter for the Lady Griz, hitting 9 of 12 attempts as the first player off the bench.
Mayhue is the only non-upperclassman in Montana's starting lineup. She has a team-high four 3-pointers and ranks third for the Lady Griz in assists with seven. Jordyn Schweyen is not getting quite as many minutes at guard but she is tied for second on the team in triples.
Montana (1-2) will be shooting for its first win over an NCAA Division I foe this weekend after losses to highly-touted Gonzaga and South Dakota. The bad news for Lady Griz fans is that Saturday is not going to be much easier against Northern Illinois (3-2).
The Huskies boast a 3-2 record and you might argue their best performance came in a loss. They pushed 23rd-ranked Iowa State on Nov. 11, eventually dropping a 70-60 verdict in Ames, Iowa.
"They get out and go and fastbreak a lot," coach Schweyen said of Northern Illinois, which posted an 81-63 home win over North Dakota State on Wednesday.
"They've got a prolific scorer. A lot of the teams we've been playing lately have been balanced. They've got one girl (Courtney Woods) who is averaging 19 and a really nice team overall. They're quick and athletic."
Woods, a 6-0 guard/forward from Australia, has also collected a team-high 38 rebounds and eight steals. Coach Schweyen will need to decide whether to put her best defender on Woods or opt for a 2-3 zone defense.
"We tend to take it on as a team and not just individual," the coach noted. "When we're practicing and preparing, we talk about we want to be aware of where she is at all times."
Montana's third-year skipper has tried to keep her team's losses in perspective. Yes, the Lady Griz have struggled on both ends. But they may not face another team the rest of the regular season as good as Gonzaga or South Dakota.
"It can be frustrating trying to score on really good teams," offered the coach. "But I do like what I'm seeing so far.
"Not having Madi (Schoening at guard), we're a different team. And no Sophia (Stiles at guard) yet — we had anticipated having Sophia by now. Those are things that have set us back a little bit. But we've got to keep staying positive and find some scoring in other people."
Coach Schweyen says Schoening (foot) and Stiles (knee) are both "day-to-day," meaning she's not certain exactly when they'll return. The good news is that sophomore reserve guard Gabi Harrington should be ready this weekend after sitting out last Saturday's game with the flu.
"It's always exciting to get back on the floor coming off a tough loss," coach Schweyen said of last weekend's 64-41 setback against South Dakota. "I think the girls are eager to get back out there.
"I feel like we've had good practices. They're real eager to get better. They want to get a W in the column as much as we do."
Notes: The Lady Griz Classic will start at noon Saturday, with UC Davis (2-4) taking on Nevada (1-4) at Dahlberg Arena. The Aggies were in the NCAA tournament last March and they have a formidable 6-4 post player in California native Morgan Bertsch. The biomedical engineering major is the all-time scoring queen for Davis with close to 2,000 points ... The Lady Griz Classic will conclude on Sunday. Montana will play again at 2 p.m. against either Nevada or Davis, depending on the outcome of their game Saturday ... Montana won the Lady Griz Classic last season with victories over Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State.