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Buoyed by their loyal fans, who always show up no matter what the team's record, the young Montana women's basketball team earned some thrilling home wins and gained a load of experience that will help a lot in 2017-18.

Unless you have a dog or an old Boy Scout handbook, you're not seeing much of it these days.

It's a little thing called loyalty. A sense of duty or of devoted attachment to something.

In today's world, someone with uncommon loyalty is sometimes looked upon as a sucker. Certainly the loyalty of most professional athletes is a thing of the past and the same goes for a lot of the business world.

For me, a reminder of just what it means to be loyal comes every time I cover the Montana women's basketball team at Dahlberg Arena. You may have heard they've had a rocky season with 22 losses.

Yet still they come. All those loyal Lady Griz fans.

Some wear painful looks on their faces when things aren't going well and others can't resist blurting a comment out of frustration. Nobody said any of us are angels.

But still, the seats are filled with the young and old. Families that laugh and cheer and eat ice cream like it was free.

This won't surprise you but it's worth mentioning: The Lady Griz led the Big Sky Conference in attendance this season. It's been that way since Shep was a pup and he's mighty old now.

There should be no taking for granted this priceless group of people. Down-to-Earth, quick-to-smile types that remind me why Montana is special.

The players and coaches on the Montana bench, the sports writer taking notes in his cushy chair, I think it's time for all of us to turn around and give the Lady Griz fans a long, heartfelt standing ovation.

Oh wait a minute, Montana coach Shannon Schweyen beat me to the punch on that one. Instead of heading to the locker room after her team recorded its biggest win of the season Friday night against Idaho State, she headed to the scorers' table, took the microphone and poured her heart out for the fans.

Schweyen, her team, the fans, they've all fought through a frustrating winter and come out smiling on the other side.

"It’s unbelievable," senior forward Rachel Staudacher said of Lady Griz fans. "It’s one of the reasons I came here, to be able to play in front of a crowd like that, people who really enjoy women’s basketball and really get into it.

"It’s so unique and so amazing to be a part of it. It makes playing so much fun and I’m just grateful."

The bottom line is worth reviewing: Montana finished next-to-last in the Big Sky Conference standings but averaged about 900 more fans per home contest than anyone else in the league (2,687). That number was down just 121 from last season when the team went 20-11 under coach Robin Selvig.


And how much difference does an enthusiastic crowd make for a team that starts four freshmen? The Lady Griz are 0-14 in games outside of Missoula and finished 7-8 at Dahlberg Arena.

Lady Griz fans, you reinforce my faith in human kind. You warm my heart on cold winter nights.

And my hunch is you'll be rewarded handsomely next season when preseason Big Sky MVP Kayleigh Valley and smooth-shooting senior post Alycia Sims join a feisty young group with a year of experience under its belt.

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Bill Speltz may be reached at 523-5255 or bill.speltz@missoulian.com.

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