Montana Grizzlies soccer grabs a rare spot in the regional rankings (MTN Sports Photo)


MISSOULA – The Montana soccer team traveled to West Lafayette, Ind., last week and came away with season-opening wins over Oakland, an NCAA tournament team a year ago, and Purdue of the Big Ten.

On Wednesday the Grizzlies were rewarded for their 2-0 start with a first for the program under sixth-year coach Mark Plakorus: a regional ranking.

Montana is No. 10 in the Pacific Region in the first ranking of the year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. The NSCAA Pacific Region is made up of teams from the Big Sky, Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences.

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Stanford, UCLA, California, Arizona State and USC fill out the top half of the Pacific Region poll, with Pac-12 teams making up nine of the 10 spots. Montana sits No. 10, ahead of any teams from the Mountain West Conference.

Coaches from each of the three conferences in the region determine each week’s rankings.

“It’s nice recognition for our program and for the work the girls have done. The coaches must have thought what we did on the road last weekend had some quality to it,” said Plakorus.

Montana, with goals from Chanelle Pederson and Hallie Widner, combined with Kailey Norman’s 17th career shutout, opened its season on Friday with a 2-0 victory over Oakland.

Two days later the Grizzlies picked up a signature win, defeating the Boilermakers 2-1 in overtime on their home field.

Purdue opened the scoring in the sixth minute, but Montana kept the Boilermakers off the scoreboard the remainder of the match.

Widner scored her second goal of the weekend, a header from five yards out, to even the score at 1-1 in the 84th minute.

In the second minute of the first overtime, the game-winning play couldn’t have been scripted any better: Warren to Pederson to Otteson to Widner and finally, with a heel flick, back to Warren, who fired a shot into the upper-left corner of the goal.

It gave Montana its first 2-0 start to a season since 2011, Plakorus’s first year with the program.

The coach, who preaches to his players to never get too high after a win or too low after a loss, practiced the same approach with the region ranking, which comes before the calendar has even reached Labor Day.

“It’s nice, but one of our goals as a team isn’t to be ranked. They don’t get you anything, and they have nothing to do with what our goals are,” he said. “We still have to perform this week and get ready for our upcoming games.”

Montana will face Wyoming (2-0-0) on Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Laramie and Denver (0-2-0) on Sunday at noon in Denver.

NSCAA Pacific Region rankings
1. Stanford
3. California
4. Arizona State
5. USC
6. Arizona
7. Washington State
8. Washington
9. Colorado
10. Montana