POCATELLO — It took a little while for Montana Oltrogge’s game to grow on Seton Sobolewski.
As a high schooler, Oltrogge played on AAU teams with Shaylee Gonzales, who set a BYU freshman scoring record with 17 points per game last year, as well as UC Santa Clara’s Lindsey VanAllen, who joined Gonzales on the West Coast Conference’s all-freshman team last year.
Those two took up most of the headlines, but behind them was Oltrogge, who caught the eye of Sobolewski, Idaho State’s women’s basketball coach.
“Just watching more and more games, you noticed how much Montana did the little things, and how competitive she was,” Sobolewski said. “At times she was undersized, but she was tough, and she could always hit open shots. The more I watched her that summer before her senior year, the more and more I just became more and more impressed.”
That evaluation led to Sobolewski offering Oltrogge at the end of that summer, and she committed to the Bengals before her senior year.
It’s also led the ISU sophomore to a situation that’s similar to the one she was in that summer.
Oltrogge isn’t the first name in Idaho State’s lineup, but she’s taken a big jump from her freshman year and, as the first player off ISU’s bench, has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Bengals in non-conference play.
“Coming off the bench, I bring that energy,” Oltrogge said. “And I know that (Sobolewski) wanted that to be to be my role, so that if we’re up, we’re down, no matter what, I still am bringing the same energy any time I play.”
Despite not starting once, Oltrogge is third on the team with 8.8 points per game.
She announced herself with a team-high 17 points in the team’s exhibition win against South Dakota School of Mines, then led the Bengals again with 19 points in a win against Seattle.
In a loss at Oklahoma State, her shooting keyed the Bengals’ best moment of the game, as she hit back-to-back 3s early in the second quarter to push ISU into a 19-19 tie.
And against Montana Tech, she made four straight 3s in the fourth quarter to finally bury the Orediggers.
She’s been unconscious from beyond the arc early, making 10 of 22 3-pointers (45.5%) in ISU’s first five games.
It’s added a useful dimension to an Idaho State team that can be short on shooting in some lineup configurations.
Aside from Oltrogge and senior Estefania Ors, the only Bengal shooting above 32% from 3 is reserve Carsyn Boswell, who’s made 2 of 5 3-point attempts in limited time.
“(Oltrogge) has always been a good shooter,” Sobolewski said. “In high school, she was more of a post player, but she was shooting, actually, above 45 percent from the 3.”
Oltrogge’s role — instant offense off the bench — has been an crucial one for Idaho State in recent years.
Ors started her career in that role in 2016, winning the Big Sky Conference’s Freshman of the Year Award and then, the next year, the award for Reserve of the Year.
“Obviously it’s a really important role,” Sobolewski said. “It’s nice to have the firecracker off the bench, somebody who you have to guard, who can make shots, who’s offensively minded and who wants to do well.”
So great is Oltrogge’s desire to do well, in fact, that Sobolewski says she asks the most questions of anyone on the team, calling her a “paranoid worker.”
”I’m kind of a perfectionist,” Oltrogge laughed. “When I don’t feel comfortable, if I don’t know something for sure, I’ll ask. Yeah, that’s always been a thing.”
So far, that drive to improve has served her well. If she can match her improvement from this year going forward in her career, she could be on a similar career path to Ors, who finally broke into the starting lineup after two years — “I had to make her start, almost,” Sobolewski said — and is the Bengals’ leading scorer this season.
So far, though, the bench role is suiting Oltrogge just fine.
”Last year, I did whatever I needed to do,” Oltrogge said. “This year, because we lost so many seniors and so many leaders, I knew that my role had to step up a bit. ... I’m just doing my part, and if that means I’m in situations where I can score, then that’s what it is.”