New Griz volleyball head coach Allison Lawrence instructs her team during an preseason scrimmage (MTN Sports photo).

MISSOULA – Something is changing on the UM campus this fall.

Montana volleyball has spent a couple decades trying to climb to the top of the Big Sky Conference. Lately, the Grizzlies have found themselves at the bottom. But a fresh start seems to have made a drastic difference.

Allison Lawrence took over as head coach after seven seasons as an assistant. And after just eight matches at the helm, her team matched its win total from all of last season with five victories.

Coaches always talk about changing the culture and confidence of a struggling program. Lawrence can’t put her finger on the exact recipe for success, but she is seeing those changes happen right in front of her eyes.

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“Our mentality is more of, ‘Hey, we are a team to beat, no matter what gym we’re in,'” said Lawrence. “And I can’t tell you the last time we felt like that, not just as a staff, but as a program. And our players carry themselves differently.”

With two wins in Illinois this Friday and Saturday, the Griz would finish with a winning record in non-conference play for the first time since 2005. Montana (5-5) takes on Seattle (3-7) and Illinois-Chicago (6-3) on Friday. Then the Griz battle the hosting SIU-Edwardsville Cougars (7-2) on Saturday.

Big Sky Conference play starts on Sept. 21 when the Grizzlies visit Eastern Washington.