(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA – After being voted second-team All-Big Sky Conference as a sophomore and junior, Montana’s Kailey Norman took over the top spot as a senior. She was voted Goalkeeper of the Year by the league’s coaches and named first-team All-Big Sky on Tuesday.
Norman was joined on the first team by senior center back Tess Brenneman. Junior outside back Chanelle Pederson was voted second team, as was sophomore Hallie Widner, who can play both forward and midfielder.
Eastern Washington junior forward Chloe Williams, who Montana will face on Wednesday when the Grizzlies and Eagles play in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky tournament at Cheney, repeated as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year after scoring a conference-high 14 goals.
Sacramento State senior Rachel Leonard was voted the Defensive Player of the Year, Idaho’s Emma Eddy, Sacramento State’s Mikayla Reed and Paige Stevens of Weber State shared Top Newcomer honors.
Norman was among the best goalkeepers in the Big Sky the last two years. She was voted behind Portland State’s Caitlin Pease as a sophomore and Idaho’s Amanda Poertner last season. As a senior, she has no equal.
She leads the league in both goals-against average (0.78) and shutouts (8), the former the second-lowest single-season average in program history. Her 29 career wins and 24 shutouts both rank second in program history.
“For Kailey to be recognized by the coaches in the conference for how good she is, it says a lot about her and the work she’s put in,” said UM coach Mark Plakorus.
One statistical area where Norman has never ranked among the Big Sky leaders is saves, which is a credit to both her and the work her teammates do in front of her.
Norman has made only 58 this year, which doesn’t even rank in the top 10 in an 11-team league, but she has three more shutouts than any other keeper and has led Montana to a 9-5-5 record, which is the number that matters the most.
“A lot of what Kailey does for us probably goes unnoticed,” said Plakorus. “She might not face as many shots as other goalkeepers, but a lot of that is because of how good she is in her positioning to take away crosses and through ball before they lead to shots.
“But she can also come up with the big saves when she has to. We always tell our goalkeepers that their job isn’t to stop everything. They need to make the routine saves, then keep us in the game every once in a while, and Kailey does that.”
Part of the reason Norman faces so few shots can be attributed to Brenneman, who was named first-team All-Big Sky for the second straight year. She was voted second-team all-conference as a sophomore.
Possessing the necessary athleticism but not the experience, confidence or skills coming out of Flathead High, Brenneman redshirted in 2012, then played outside back her first two years. The last two seasons she has started at center back and has rarely left the field.
She’ll be starting her 69th consecutive match on Wednesday.
“I thought Tess had a very good year. As the season went on, I thought she got more and more steady as the leader of our defense,” said Plakorus, whose team has posted shutouts in four of its last six matches.
“She’s another player who every year has gotten better and better. She’s done a lot of work on her own to take that next step as a player and develop into a very good defender, so she is definitely deserving of her recognition.”
Pederson and Widner were both named second-team All-Big Sky. Pederson was an honorable mention selection as a freshman in 2014. That same season Widner was voted first team and named the league’s Newcomer of the Year after leading the team with seven goals and 17 points.
Widner broke her leg in July 2015, which not only kept her out last season, it limited her last spring as well.
“The injury Hallie had was a major setback,” said Plakorus. “And there are some things she’s still dealing with from the injury, so for her to be recognized as one of the better players in the league after sitting out a year says a lot about her determination to get back.”
Widner opened the season on fire, scoring goals in each of the team’s first three matches. Her first assist of the year, in the season’s second match, set up McKenzie Warren’s overtime game-winner at Purdue.
Widner has four goals and three assists for the season, down from her 2014 production, but that could be expected based on her on-field role on the team this year and her reputation.
“We played Hallie in the midfield this year a little more than up front, so she hasn’t been around the goal as much,” said Plakorus.
“The other part of it is that people are very aware of who she is, so they pay attention to her a little more. She’s a high-quality player.”
Pederson has been a good outside back since arriving at Montana. As a junior she added something new to her resume: playmaker. She has both the speed and the foot skills to join the attack up the outside, which she did more and more as the season went along.
She scored Montana’s first goal of the season, putting in the game-winner in the team’s 2-0 season-opening victory over Oakland. And she assisted on Madison Adams’ game-winner in the Grizzlies’ 3-0 victory over Weber State, one of a handful of dangerous balls she played in that match.
“We’ve always asked our outside backs to get forward and be a part of our attack, and Chanelle has gotten more comfortable and is reading things a lot better this year,” said Plakorus. “She’s been more involved in that way.”
But she’s a defender first, one who plays nearly 80 minutes per match. The Grizzlies have nine shutouts this fall, two more than any other Big Sky team. They’ve allowed just 16 goals in 19 matches (0.84/g)
“Chanelle is a very good defender. It’s very difficult to beat her, because she’s very smart and positions herself so well,” said Plakorus. “She is strong, athletic and physical, and then she is also very good with the ball with both feet. She is a player who is really coming into her own.”
Regular-season champion Idaho, the top seed at this week’s tournament at Cheney, led the league with six All-Big Sky Conference selections. The Vandals had one first-team player and five on the second team.
Montana ranked second with four.