The Montana State volleyball team began its season against Grand Canyon University Friday (Photo courtesy Montana State University)

Editor’s note: Montana State University media release

Bozeman – Montana State volleyball coach JJ Riley entered Friday’s season-opener with a lot of questions, especially with eight newcomers on the squad. The second-year coach got the answer he was looking for as the Bobcats captured a 23-25, 34-32, 25-20, 18-25, 15-9 victory over Grand Canyon at the Air Force-Amy Svoboda Memorial Classic.

“It’s nice to start with a win, but more importantly, we were able to pull out a long, drawn-out battle – first time out – with a new group,” Riley said. “The win included a big comeback in set two. We showed grit and toughness, which we can build on.”

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Grand Canyon (0-1) outhit Montana State (1-0) .357 to .200 to take the opening set.

The ‘Lopes held a commanding 22-15 margin in the second stanza, before the Bobcats regrouped with eight unanswered points. The rally was led by the serving of junior setter Katie Rutecki, and sparked offensively by freshman middle blocker Savannah Laws with three kills. The Bobcats fought off seven set points, before freshman Caitlin Lonergan evened the score at 32-all. Following a GCU attack error, junior middle blocker Kiana Black gave MSU the set victory.

“We had numerous girls come off the bench to help which is a great sign as we have depth to help us out,” Riley said.

Montana State pulled away midway through the third game behind a pair of service aces via Lonergan, the former Bozeman High standout. Lonergan’s kill gave the Bobcats a 25-20 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.

Grand Canyon owned the fourth set as the ‘Lopes outhit the Bobcats .273 to .137 to force a fifth and deciding game.
In the final set, MSU jumped out to an early 5-1 lead before GCU rallied to tie the score at six-all. The Bobcats answered with back-to-back kills by Black and Eli Svisco and never looked back.

“Offensively, we had four girls in double-digit kills,” Riley said. “I thought both setters played well running the offense, while also coming up with big defensive plays when we needed them.”

Svisco paced MSU with a match-high 16 kills, while Natalie Passeck 15, Lonergan 14, and Laws 13 also reached double-digits. Rutecki and Sydney Mathison dished out 37 and 26 assists, respectively.

Defensively, three Bobcats posted double-figure digs led by freshman libero Allyssa Rizzo with 33 saves, Passeck 18 and Rutecki 13.

“I thought Allyssa Rizzo played lights out defense for us with 33 digs and kept us in the match,” Riley said.

In all, thirteen Bobcats saw action and accounted for 75 kills, 87 digs, nine aces and nine digs.

“It was an all-around great team effort,” Riley said. “We were able to see the areas in which we need to keep working on.”

MSU will meet Air Force and Jacksonville State on Saturday.