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Speltz: Feller one special Lady Griz

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Mom wasn't there Friday to watch McCalle Feller play for Montana in the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

She's never been there. She gave up her daughter for adoption at birth and died in 2013 before McCalle had a chance to meet her.

Not to worry. Feller is a glass-half-full kind of gal and efforts to connect with her biological mom were rewarded with new friendships, including one with her mom's best friend, former Lady Griz Jodi Hinrichs Smith.

"Even though she died I feel like she still kind of sees me with a Lady Griz uniform on," McCalle said of her mom. "It's always good to have people on your side up there in heaven. I just hope she can see me now."

Oh mom, you'd be so proud. Two years removed from her walk-on season, McCalle earned a starting job for the Lady Griz this winter and flirted with Sonya Rogers' single-season record for made 3-pointers. Feller finished five shy of Rogers' high-water mark of 72.

"I tease her," Feller said of Rogers, a Lady Griz assistant coach and someone McCalle has always looked up to as a fellow Lewistown native. "I got close to that record but I have like 40 more misses than her. I think that's pretty much it."

Given a choice of four families when she put her daughter up for adoption, McCalle's biological mom, a college athlete herself, chose basketball coach Jerry Feller and his wife, Michelle. McCalle maintains the same small-town humility she learned growing up as the product of the tremendously supportive Feller family.

"My dad has always told me you miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take," McCalle said playfully. "To be honest though, I don't think I ever really learned to keep shooting when I miss. I think I was just was too stupid to not shoot."

Someday Feller would like to be a broadcast journalist. She already has a way of expressing herself that's endearing.

"Honestly I didn't think I'd ever make it to this moment," said the junior, who estimates she won 10 basketball games total from her freshman to senior year at Fergus High. "Just being on a winning team and being on a program that can do what we've done is more than words can express.

"Even now I don't think I've processed it or comprehended how awesome this is."

McCalle finally got to meet her biological father face-to-face last year. Although he has moved on and started a new family, Feller still feels richer for the experience.

She will always look upon her adoptive parents as her "real" family. She feels just as much love from her Lady Griz family and says she's forever indebted to assistant coach Trish Duce, who put in countless hours over the summer helping McCalle improve her game.

You might say the fun-loving Feller, who still counts SpongeBob SquarePants among her favorite TV shows, has the same approach to basketball as everything else: Be grateful for opportunities and jump at them with boundless positive energy. It helps, of course, when you can jump high enough that you're able to double as a track athlete for the Grizzlies.

"On my best day I can touch the rim," she says with a chuckle. "On my worst day I can barely get to the net."

Treating both those days as a privilege -- that might just be Feller's greatest asset as an athlete.

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Cold shooting and shaky interior defense doomed the Montana women’s basketball team Friday in its NCAA tournament opener.

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