(Editor’s note: story by Griz communications)
MISSOULA – Montana knew the competition would be steep on Friday, facing perennial powerhouse volleyball programs Utah and Iowa State, both ranked in the top 30 in the entire country. The challenge was daunting, but Montana showed it has the ability to hang with the best of the best.
The Grizzlies lost both matches in straight sets, but head coach Allison Lawrence was encouraged by the results inside of the final result.
“I was proud of how they competed,” Lawrence said. “I just thought, from top to bottom, in both matches, we had so many people step up and execute at different times.
“It’s fun to play against the best as the underdog because you can play loose, and I thought we took advantage of that. When they’re having fun and really pushing themselves and playing on that edge, there’s nothing more fun to watch as a coach.”
Against Utah – the first nationally ranked team to play in Missoula in 15 years, and the fourth ever – Montana came out strong, holding the lead for the first half of the set, including by as many as four points. Utah was the first to call timeout, trailing 17-15, and unable to slow down a hot Montana offense. Again in the third set, Montana was right there with Utah, battling back to get within one point at 15-14.
While Montana hung tough, Utah showed its strength and stamina. In the first set, Utah closed the frame on a 10-2 run to erase the 17-15 deficit. Once Montana got within one point in the third set, the Utes responded with the next seven points, and 10 of the final 11 to end the match.
“The only frustrating moments came when our serve-receive would waver, which is something I think you should be able to control against any level team. The big runs, those moments were the only ones where we were mentally wavering I thought.”
After dropping the first set to Iowa State 25-14, Montana was in the next two until the very end. Montana jumped out to leads of 12-4 and 15-8 in the second set, using a steady defensive presence at the net to keep Iowa State off kilter. Like Utah was able to do earlier in the day, though, a big run doomed Montana, with the Cyclones grabbing the next nine points following a timeout. Montana would fight back to tie the score at 21-21 before Iowa State won the final four points.
In the third set, the two teams were tied at 15-15, 16-16, 17-17, 18-18 and 20-20 before the Cyclones were able to close the match out.
- Montana led Utah for 20 points in Set 1, compared to 18 points for the Utes. The Grizzlies led by as many as four points (9-5) and held a multi-point lead as late as 17-15, forcing the Utes to use a timeout. At that point, the Grizzlies were hitting an astonishing .529 (11-2-17). They were also out-blocking the Utes, 3-1, and had made just three total errors compared to six for Utah.
- Utah responded out of the timeout, closing the set on a 10-2 run. After making just two attack errors up to that point, Montana had four down the stretch, hitting -0.091.
- Down by as many as four points in the third set, Montana rallied to get within a single point at 15-14. The Grizzlies did so by scoring three consecutive points, including a Cassie Laramee kill. After getting within one point, though, Utah closed the match on a 10-1 run.
- Mykaela Hammer had the best match of her senior season, recording nine kills without an error (9-0-23; .391).
- Junior Ashley Watkins recorded a double-double with 29 assists and 10 digs.
- Freshman Sarina Moreno made her collegiate debut, entering as Montana’s libero to begin the second set. She finished the match with six digs.
Iowa State notes:
- Montana held an eight-point lead early in the second set and was nearly doubling up the Cyclones when they called timeout (15-8). Iowa State responded with a 9-0 run, the largest by a UM opponent this season.
- The third set saw seven tie scores, including many late in the frame. Montana could never quite get over the hump and take the lead, but kept pace the entire match, falling 25-23.
- Sophomore Janna Grimsrud had a career-best six blocks, including three each in both the second and third frames. She had back-to-back blocks in the second set, giving Montana a 15-8 lead and forcing a Cyclone timeout.
- In addition to 29 assists and two blocks, Ashley Watkins had three service aces.
- Mykaela Hammer and Missy Huddleston paced the Grizzlies with 10 kills apiece.
Quoting Coach Lawrence:
(Lawrence on Janna Grimsrud)
To see Liv (Olivia Bradley) player her first match at home and to see Baily (Permann) block the way she did in our first match, and then to see Kenzie (Kramer) and Janna come in during the second match, was nice to see our depth. That’s the best I’ve ever seen Janna play. She didn’t get a ton of playing time last week, but the enthusiasm and the belief that comes from all areas of our group is really encouraging.”
(Lawrence on what her team can learn from playing top-30 teams)
“The speed of their game. It was really stressful for our block to return to base, read hitters and read a setter all that quickly. I hope that our eyes got quicker and our feet got quicker off the ball, and we learned that if we hit our assignments we can cause some things to happen that we want to happen. I thought that was apparent when we went on runs.”
(Lawrence on playing in front of a home crowd, inside Dahlberg Arena)
“It was so much fun. We’ve been talking about playing in the arena for so long, and to have this caliber of tournament in this setting, I was watching as we were scouting, and I kind of had to pinch myself. Our vision for it came true. There’s something about how this place feels like the big stage that had our team operating on a higher level. They are so proud of Missoula and Montana and our fans, and you could see that today.”
What’s on tap:
Utah and Iowa State both went 2-0 on the day, defeating Montana and Gonzaga. The Utes swept both matches while the Cyclones beat Gonzaga in four sets. The Utes and Cyclones will face each other Saturday at 11 a.m., followed by Montana vs. Gonzaga at 1:30 p.m. Fans can use Friday’s match ticket to get in to both of Saturday’s matches for free. Additionally, fans can get in free by showing their Griz football ticket vs. Northern Iowa. Montana’s match leads perfectly into tailgating and an evening football game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium.