Softball eyes opportunity, exposure with Big Sky membership
By ZACH BOND
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado Softball continues to bask in the glow of a record-breaking season, and the players and head coach Mark Montgomery are eager to carry that momentum into next year, when they will play their inaugural season in the Big Sky Conference.
Montgomery's Bears, who have played the past three seasons in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference, will officially join the Big Sky on Sunday morning and will be joined in their PCSC exodus by Portland State, Idaho State, Sacramento State and Weber State.
New Big Sky members Southern Utah and North Dakota will also compete in softball, giving the conference seven softball programs in its first year of sponsorship.
Montgomery said he hopes the move will create more publicity for his program among casual Northern Colorado supporters, who have come to associate most of the Bears sport programs with the Big Sky.
"I can't tell you how excited we are to go into the Big Sky," Montgomery said. "I think some of our local fans that know Northern Colorado but don't know softball may be able to affiliate us in a stronger manner. They'll better understand the teams we're playing and how the conference championship works."
One of the big changes brought on by the Big Sky's sponsorship of softball will be the use of a four-team double-elimination conference postseason championship as opposed to the PCSC's championship method of having divisional winners face off in a best-of-three format.
The winner of the Big Sky's annual postseason tournament will earn an automatic qualification into the NCAA Tournament.
Another positive Montgomery sees in the Big Sky move is the chance his program will now have to help Northern Colorado Athletics compete for the Big Sky Women's All-Sports Trophy, given annually to the athletic department that has done the best in women' sports.
This year, without softball, Northern Colorado was edged by half a point by Sacramento State.
"I think it's great to be able to compete for the All-Sports Trophy now, too," Montgomery said. "It will be a lot of fun to help our other athletic programs.
"For our players, the move is going to give us a better sense of a common opponent with the other student-athletes at Northern Colorado. I think it just contributes in so many different ways as far as positivity for our players."
Coming off a season in which they finished 25-28 (10-10 PCSC), the Bears will come into the Big Sky in 2013 with all but three returning regulars. And with a slew of freshmen maturing into sophomores, Montgomery knows the future is bright for his program.
"The thing I'm really excited about is just the chance to win the thing in the conference's first year," said Montgomery. "This is a great chance for us to come in and really establish ourselves as one of the best programs in the Big Sky.
"As we're trying to grow this program going forward, what a great time for this to happen so we can really grow into what we want to be, which is conference champions."