Story from Montana Sports Information

In voting that suggests the coaches of the Big Sky Conference may not be totally prepared for the changes being made on a daily basis in the West Auxiliary Gym, Montana was picked for an 11th-place finish in the league’s preseason volleyball poll that was released on Friday.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and call it a wait-and-see approach that the 11 other coaches in the league are taking. And why not? They’ve mostly had their way with the Grizzlies the last three seasons, going 37-12 against Montana.

They’ll believe it when they see it. But sophomore outside hitter Missy Huddleston hasn’t had to wait. She’s seen the changes firsthand, starting last spring, then continuing through the summer and into the first week of preseason practices under first-year coach Allison Lawrence.

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“Everyone worked hard in the spring and the summer, and everyone changed their tone and is really thriving,” Huddleston said.

“Our team chemistry is completely different than last year. The coaching staff has really helped with our motivation. We all have the same goal to work together.”

Topping the poll is North Dakota, last year’s regular-season and tournament champion. The Fighting Hawks, who are entering their final season in the Big Sky before joining the Summit League in 2018, picked up 10 of 12 first-place votes.

UND, picked third in the 2016 poll, lost just one starter off last year’s team that went 14-2 in league and didn’t lose a set while rolling to three Big Sky tournament wins in Grand Forks.

Northern Colorado, which also lost only one starter off last year’s team that tied for third with a 12-4 league record, came in second in the poll and earned the other two first-place votes.

Sacramento State went 13-3 in league last fall, Northern Arizona finished 12-4. Those two teams came in third and fourth in the poll. The Lumberjacks, who topped last season’s preseason poll, lost to North Dakota in straight sets in the Big Sky tournament championship match.

Rounding out the upper half of the poll were Portland State and Idaho State. The bottom half was Idaho, Weber State, Eastern Washington, Montana State, Montana and Southern Utah.

The Big Sky Conference schedule opens on Thursday, Sept. 21. The top eight teams at season’s end will advance to the Big Sky tournament, which will be hosted Nov. 16-18 at the home of the regular-season champion.

Montana begins its nonconference schedule at North Texas’s tournament in Denton. The Grizzlies will face Prairie View A&M on Friday, Aug. 25, Tulsa and North Texas on Saturday, Aug. 26.

The team’s home opener will be against Sacramento State on Thursday, Sept. 28.

2017 Big Sky Conference preseason volleyball poll
1. North Dakota (10 first-place votes) … 120 points
2. Northern Colorado (2) … 103
3. Sacramento State … 99
4. Northern Arizona … 96
5. Portland State … 82
6. Idaho State … 71
7. Idaho … 63
8. Weber State … 49
9. Eastern Washington … 44
10. Montana State … 24
11. Montana … 21
12. Southern Utah … 20