BOZEMAN — In March, at a lively on-campus gathering filled with fans and friends, Montana State learned exactly who and where it would play in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament. But star forward Peyton Ferris seemed sullen and dispirited.
It didn’t add up.
Ferris, fresh off winning the Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament MVP awards while leading the Bobcats to their first league championship in 24 years two days prior in Reno, Nevada, had reason to be the most enthusiastic person in the room.
Soon it all became clear: A day earlier, Ferris learned that someone close to her — her brother’s best friend — had died in a dirt bike accident near Norris.
The 14th-seeded Bobcats were matched up with No. 3 Washington, and with that came the opportunity to play against the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, Kelsey Plum. But Ferris’ thoughts were, understandably, elsewhere.
“That was really hard,” Ferris recalled Thursday. “I found out on that Sunday, the night we got back from Reno. The selection show was the next day, and I didn’t really have the right emotions during that week.
“Here I was on this emotional high and it got completely turned over. It was hard for me to express the excitement I felt going in. My coaches and teammates were really understanding, and once we finally got (to Seattle) it was easier to be engaged and be able to let it all out and go play and get in the flow.”
MSU went shot for shot with Plum and the Huskies before falling off pace in the second half. In spite of their effort, the Bobcats lost, 91-63.
Ferris poured in a career-high 33 points (outscoring Plum) and earned high praise from Washington coach Mike Neighbors, who called the Twin Bridges product “unguardable.” Ferris’ feelings were mixed about that, too.
“It’s kind of a weird feeling. Being a competitor, when you see some of that stuff it looks really good. People were impressed by that game,” she said. “But being a perfectionist you look back at some of other things that happened: You miss a few shots that you had made all year, or you should have done this or could have done that.
“Overall, I don’t think it’s anything to be disappointed about. We definitely had a shot. There were positives and negatives to pull away from it.”
Despite the loss — and the tragic circumstances hovering over MSU’s star player — it was the culmination of a dream season for Ferris and the Bobcats, who won 25 games and atoned for a disappointing ending to the season prior. Ferris finished her career 11th on the Bobcats’ all-time scoring list and will go down as one of the program’s top performers.
It begs the question: What’s next? Ferris, who proved she can thrive against the nation’s best, has options that she is still considering. She recently signed with 4 Players Sports, a women’s basketball agency, and plans to at least explore playing opportunities overseas.
Ferris also said she needs to take into account her health. She’s already undergone two knee surgeries, and she says her knee caps on both legs are troublesome. Ferris played a rugged style during her time with the Bobcats, and it took a toll.
There is a chance that she may not play at all.
“I have an opportunity to go overseas. It’s there if I want it. We’ll see what happens down the road,” Ferris said. “My job is to kind of sit and wait and see what comes up. It depends on how my body feels when the time comes and how other things play out. You just have to be prepared for whatever path I decide to take.
“It’s one of those things where I wish I could see the future and just be able to know what exactly is going to happen. But I don’t, so I’m just going to play it out and follow what my gut says and see how my body feels.”
In the meantime Ferris is working out on her own and preparing to finish her master’s degree in family and community health. She already has degrees in psychology and sociology.
She participated in the ProHoops combine in Dallas during the Women’s Final Four, and plans to spend the summer working out and honing her skills in Twin Bridges and nearby Dillon.
Regardless of what the future holds, Ferris will look back on her decorated Montana State career with pride and devotion.
“There’s always things you’re going to miss, but at the same time I put in five years here,” she said. “Everything was on an upward peak and it ended on a high note, so I’m happy about that.
“You’re going to miss the people here, your teammates, but I’m ready to move on to the next step.”