(Editor’s Note: Story by Griz Communications)
EL PASO, TEXAS – For the second consecutive week, Montana closed a tournament with a win. The Grizzlies took down UTEP in straight sets Saturday morning inside the famed Memorial Gym (25-23, 25-23, 26-24).
The set scores – each by a minimum two points – paint a different picture than what played out on the court, as Montana was in full control for most of the match, putting together its most complete performance of the season.
“It felt good, and we looked like a really composed, tested team,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “It’s so fun to coach this group because they know exactly what they’re confident in, which is a huge step forward for us as a team.”
The Grizzlies (2-7) were revved up from the start, using a 5-0 run to begin the match and never trailed in the set.
“We talked so much during pregame about really hitting our assignments and being very detailed in our efforts early,” Lawrence said. “For us to go out and serve tough, and I thought really set the tone for the whole match, it put UTEP on its heels. I felt like I relaxed in those first five points, and I think it was the same for the team.”
Montana was again in front for nearly the entirety of the second set, using a five-point stretch to turn its only multi-point deficit into a three-point lead, 21-18.
UTEP (2-6) flexed its muscles in the third frame, jumping out to a 5-0 lead. But Montana slowly chipped away, using a 17-7 run. The Grizzlies would lead by as many as four points on multiple occasions, including at 24-20. Needing just one point to end the match, the Miners scored the next four points to force extra points.
Montana, though, got a big block from Mykaela Hammer and Baily Permann to regain the lead, and ended the match several points later.
“The match was called really tight, and that got us flustered a little bit when we felt like we weren’t in control,” Lawrence said. “We regained our composure and put it in our minds that we were going to finish the match right there.”
Montana showed the ability to close out sets in all three frames, something that was a struggle in the first week of the season but has consistently been improved upon. Lawrence credited Montana’s ability to make good, aggressive decisions, rather than playing tentatively.
“Rather than in year’s past, and weekend’s past, we are making aggressive decisions when it matters most,” she said. “We’re taking risks and making the aggressive decision each time. We’re choosing the right things more and more often, and we’re feeling the momentum from it.”
Senior outside hitter Cassie Laramee played a key role in Montana’s 5-0 run to begin the match, recording three kills on three swings. She finished with a match-high 13 kills on .357 hitting.
“Cassie’s such a mature, composed competitor,” Lawrence said. “She’s a little bit unassuming because she doesn’t get a lot of flashy kills, but she has such good vision. She’s a type-A personality, so if anyone knows our scouting report and remember what we want to do, it’s Cassie.”
Freshman middle blocker Olivia Bradley had seven kills on .312 hitting, to go along with four blocks, while sophomore Baily Permann had a season-most six stuffs. The Grizzlies out-hit and out-blocked the Miners.
Montana held UTEP to .150 hitting (43-23-133), a season low for a UM opponent. UTEP hit just .029 in the first set.
Montana out-hit its opponent (.208 to .150) for the second consecutive match. The Grizzlies led their opponent in blocking for the fifth time this season (10.5).
Laramee’s 13 kills were her most since last October.
Tied at 14-14 in the first frame, the Grizzlies used a 4-0 run to create separation. UTEP would get within one point, at 23-22, before Montana closed the set.
Montana’s only multi-point deficit during the first two sets came at 18-16 in the second frame. The Grizzlies scored the next five points, however, to take a 21-18 advantage. The run began with a Missy Huddleston kill and ace, and also included a Laramee kill and block.
Tied at 23-23 in the second set, Montana came out of its timeout with back-to-back kills by Mykaela Hammer and Huddleston to close the set.
Montana trailed the third set by as many as six points (10-4), its largest deficit overcome this season in a set victory. During an 11-4 run that flipped the script and gave Montana a 21-17 lead, the Grizzlies benefited from three blocks and two kills from Bradley. Huddleston also had two service aces during the run.