BOZEMAN — Montana State’s Peyton Ferris is decidedly one of the top women’s basketball players in the Big Sky Conference, but she’ll be an anomaly Saturday when the Bobcats face rival Montana at Dahlberg Arena in Missoula.
A former all-state performer at Twin Bridges, Ferris is the only homegrown player on MSU’s roster expected to have a prominent role in the biannual matchup between the in-state foes.
The Bobcats aren’t typically this short on Treasure State talent, but such is the case: The team’s other local player is redshirt freshman guard Madi Shaide, a product of Missoula Big Sky High School, who has seen just 12 minutes all year.
So it’s up to Ferris to be a torchbearer for MSU during rivalry weekend, which she said is “a privilege.” It also provides some extra incentive for Ferris to have a strong performance — with Shaide in mind.
“Part of my motivation would be to be in a position to see if we can get (Shaide) out in front of her home crowd,” Ferris said.
Based on coach Tricia Binford’s typical bench rotation, the Bobcats would have a sizeable lead in the second-half in order for Shaide to enter the game. But Ferris’ statement isn’t meant to be bulletin-board material.
It’s more a reflection of her appreciation for the rivalry, a matchup MSU has won just three of the last nine games. Wins have been hard to come by for the Bobcats in Missoula, where they are 6-45 all-time.
Ferris, put simply, gets it. And she’d love to pick up a rare win at Dahlberg Arena.
“I would say out of everybody on the team, she understands the rivalry better than anybody else, having lived it and experienced it growing up,” Binford said. “I just think as a leader and a captain of the team, she knows the value of this game.”
On paper, the Bobcats are favored to prevail on Saturday. MSU comes in 15-5 overall and 8-2 in Big Sky games while the young and injury ravaged Lady Griz — they’ve lost stalwarts Kayleigh Valley and Alycia Sims to season-ending knee afflictions — are 3-18, have dropped 12 straight and have yet to win in 10 conference tries.
The Bobcats, by comparison, have won seven of their past eight games, including four in a row after last week’s road sweep over Idaho and Eastern Washington.
All the while Ferris has continued to dominate opponents.
The 5-foot-9 senior forward averaged 19.9 points and 7.3 rebounds while shooting 46.9 percent in the previous eight games. Her season-long per-game averages tell a similar tale: 17.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists to go along with a 48.1 overall field-goal percentage.
As she has throughout her career, Ferris continues to utilize her signature move, the one-handed hitch shot. Ferris will bull her way into the lane, go up, make a one-pump adjustment with the ball in her right hand and kiss it off the glass.
It’s proven indefensible, and it’s helped produce 1,084 career points, good for 18th all-time at MSU.
“It’s something that just kind of adapted,” Ferris said of her patented maneuver. “You go in there and you’re weaving through trees or you’re getting a double team, you can’t just go straight up.”
“She’s very hard to block,” Binford added. “Even our scout guys try to block her all the time, but she’s really crafty.”
Ferris has remained healthy after suffering hardships injury-wise early in her career, a litany of ailments that required reconstruction of her right knee, two subsequent scopes, and three other ankle/foot surgeries.
Projected as an off-guard or small forward coming out of Twin Bridges, she played right away for the Bobcats as a true freshman but sat out the following year to heal up.
Since then Ferris has been building a legacy as a standout post following in the footsteps of other Montana-grown players that have helped her along the way.
Ferris said former high school teammates Kelcy Lott and Dawn Degel “were gym rats and wanted to do things the right way,” and that she gravitated toward certain players at MSU “that were translatable to Dawn and Kelcy: Jackie Elliott, Ashley (Albert) Brumwell, Rachel Semansky ... the girls that were here that would really work with you while improving their own games, too.”
Ferris has grown since her days as a Class C star. In the past two seasons she was named the Big Sky’s top reserve, and this year was picked as the league’s preseason MVP — a prediction she could make a reality based on what she’s done to this point.
“I just think her work ethic and her small-town roots have prepared her to overcome adverse situations,” Binford said of Ferris. “A very unique story with a perseverant, courageous player. Not many kids could do that.
“I just think that says a lot about her personally — overcoming the injuries, the position changes, the rollercoaster — and for her to be able to shine through at the end her career has been really fun to watch."