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

The Montana State volleyball team won its first road match of the season out-hitting Southern Utah .231 to 0.80, en route to a 25-20, 25-19, 25-17 straight set victory over the Thunderbirds, Saturday afternoon.

“I loved the way the team played,” said MSU head coach JJ Riley. “They played with a great calmness, yet played aggressively. The calmness allowed them to keep their focus, execute and stay in the moment, which is so key.”

Montana State (5-14, 3-7) rallied from an early 6-1 deficit in the opening set with an 11-5 run as Caitlin Lonergan’s ace gave the Bobcats a 17-13 advantage. Southern Utah (4-18, 2-8) knotted the score at 20-all, before MSU closed out the set with five straight points. Junior Kiana Black sparked the late Bobcat rally with a kill and two blocks.

MSU used an early 4-0 run in second stanza and never let the Thunderbird offense get on track. The Bobcats took a 2-0 lead heading into intermission following a block by Lonergan and Savannah Laws. In the final set freshman Sydney Mathison recorded a service ace to give MSU a 12-7 margin and the Cats never relinquished the lead.

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“It’s always great to win, but what is very rewarding is this team has been grinding with the intent on improving daily,” Riley said. “So to see the outcome makes it that much more special.”

Sophomore Natalie Passeck paced the Bobcats with a double-double recording a team-high 12 kills and 14 digs. She also posted a .360 attack mark and two aces. Lonergan, a freshman from Bozeman, finished with ten kills and seven blocks. Laws also chipped in a team-high seven blocks.

Bobcat setters Katie Rutecki and Mathison dished out 20 and 15 assists, respectively, while Allyssa Rizzo added nine digs.

“Our pins – Caitlin, Natalie and Eli (Svisco) had a great match,” Riley said. “Evi (Wilson) had some big kills and made some nice plays throughout the match as well. Savannah came in for an injured Audra (Dugan) and did great with some huge blocks for us. Kiana also came through with some big kills. And Rizzo did a great job passing so it was a great team effort. I thought our setters set a really nice match, as well.”

SUU was led by Chennin Benson with 12 kills.

Montana State will host Northern Colorado on Friday, Oct. 28 in Shroyer Gym.

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