354 free throws - 3rd all time
1,098 rebounds - 2nd all time
180 blocked shots - 1st all time
51 double-doubles - 2nd all time
She was the first Idaho State women’s basketball “superstar.”
Mandi Carver came out of Dillon, Montana, where she helped win a state championship in high school. Yet amazingly, the 6-foot-2 forward wasn’t recruited by either Montana or Montana State. Legendary UM coach Robin Selvig rarely makes mistakes when judging talent, but Carver might have been his biggest error. Ardie McInelly then ISU’s coach, immediately offered Carver, who accepted, came to Pocatello and the rest is history.
“There was something special about Idaho State,” Carver said. “I liked the staff and the community. The academics were good. It was a no-brainer.”
Carver was McInelly’s first major recruiting coup but she wasn’t the only one. Forward Ashley Toner came on board a year later and the Bengals had the best frontcourt in the Big Sky Conference.
It all came together in the 2000-2001 season. A 58-56 last second win over BYU that started the Bengals on a 21-game winning streak. They went 16-0 in the Big Sky Conference. Carver was named the league MVP, averaging 14.3 points and 10.1 rebounds. In the Big Sky Tournament 5,000 fans packed into Holt Arena for the title game that saw ISU beat Montana 68-59 for the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time ISU had ever gone to “the dance.” Carver had 16 points and seven rebounds in the decisive title game.
“The way the previous season ended, we came in with a chip on our shoulders. I think it was that BYU game when I said, ‘wow, we can do this,’” Carver said. “And the more we won the more fun we had and winning also breeds confidence. We were a grounded team that worked hard.”
ISU played Vanderbilt in Nashville in the first round. Vandy had a monstrous front line led by 6-6 All-America center Chantelle Anderson. The results were predicable, an 83-57 Commodores’ win. But that took nothing away from the season and what Carver and her teammates accomplished going 25-5, still the best single-season mark in over 40 years ISU has played women’s basketball.
Carver graduated in 2002. It’s been 13 years but she still remains the all-time leader in blocked shots (180), the second leading rebounder (1,098) and the third leading scorer (1,538) in ISU history. Her career high scoring game was 37 points against Wyoming in an overtime win, one off the school record.
“It’s nice to look back on that and it makes me smile when I do,” she said. “I had great coaches and teammates like Ashley Toner and Angela Munger, who pushed me to do better. I don’t accomplish what I did without their help.”
More importantly that season showed Idaho State could compete with the Montanas and Weber States of the Big Sky world. Carver and her teammates raised the bar and set the standard for everyone that followed. McInelly left after the 2000-2001season, but under Jon Newlee and Seton Sobolewski the winning has continued in the new millennium. The Bengals have made the Big Sky postseason tournament 12 straight years and gone back to the NCAA Tournament twice more to go along with three appearances in the WNIT.
After graduating, Mandi played seven professional seasons in Europe and is currently an assistant coach at Fresno State. She was inducted into the Idaho State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014.