MISSOULA — Montana and Montana State met up for their typical rivalry volleyball matchup for the first time in over a year, and the game didn't disappoint as the Bobcats topped the Grizzlies in a five-set thriller 3-2 at Dahlberg Arena on Sunday evening.
Kira Thomsen finished with 18 kills for the Bobcats (3-2, 3-2 Big Sky Conference) while Hannah Scott added 12 kills. Alexis Goroski finished with 27 digs while Thomsen and Emma Pence each finished with four assisted blocks each and Delaney Shearan had 28 assists.
Shayla Weber, Goroski and Thomsen each added two serving aces as well.
"I just can’t put into words really the feeling of a Cat-Griz game," Bozeman native and MSU junior setter Allie Lynch said. "A rivalry game is so much different than any other volleyball game you’re ever put in and just to come out there and be the aggressor in this game, that was really cool for us."
Montana (1-6, 1-6) came out firing in the opening set and took it 25-21 behind five kills from Peyten Boutwell. MSU responded in a tightly contested second set to win 25-23 to tie it 1-1.
"We felt the momentum from 14 months ago when we played them in Bozeman (and won)," Montana coach Allison Lawrence said. "I think, Griz-Cat, you walk in with a little bit of swagger regardless of what side of that you’re on, it kind of brings out your confidence that you’re going to dig your heels in and fight for your team and so we came in that way and we came in just with the mentality that nothing up to this day mattered. It was just who we are today and I think they’ve done such a good job staying present.
"We came in kind of guns blazing and wanted to just run at them as hard as we could and see what we could do."
In the third set the Bobcats found their rhythm and dominated 25-9, including a 13-1 run to close the set out thanks to stellar play from Thomsen. However, Montana responded in the fourth set 25-20 to send the game into a fifth and final frame. UM junior libero Sarino Moreno, a Missoula Sentinel graduate, went down with a lower leg injury at the end of the third set and did not return, and was replaced by freshman Sarah Ashley, a Helena Capital grad, who sparked Montana in the fourth set. Tied 12-12, Ashley recorded four service aces that spurred an 8-0 Griz run to send the game into the final set.
Going back and forth the whole way with 11 ties in the fifth, Montana State sealed it 17-15 after a kill from Hailey Merkes, and the Bobcats took the first game of the two-game season series with the Grizzlies.
"Anytime you get into that situation, it’s about who is going to just execute in the moment," Montana State coach Daniel Jones said. "We had match point there and missed a serve which we rued, of course, but to have the opportunity to come back and just keep scrapping and keep fighting. Ultimately in these tight rivalry games like this is that the team who keeps scrapping, keeps fighting that often comes out on top."
Boutwell finished with 18 kills for the Grizzlies while Elsa Godwin and Sophia Meyers each tallied 10. Carly Anderson had 49 assists for the Griz while Amethyst Harper, Madi Chuhlantseff and Boutwell each tallied four assisted blocks. Ashely finished with five aces and led Montana with 13 digs.
Game two between UM and MSU will take place on Monday at Dahlberg Arena with a scheduled start time of 7 p.m.