(Editor’s Note: Story by Griz Communications)
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – For as much progress as the Montana volleyball team has seen over the past two weeks, Friday was a day of frustration. The Grizzlies lost both matches to open the Roadrunner Classic, falling in straight sets to UC Santa Barbara and in four sets in the nightcap, to host CSU Bakersfield.
“As a team we talked about how we know all of the right things to say after a match, but we’re not good at responding in the moment,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “Players spoke up after our first match about needing to be more direct and vocal on the court, in the moment.”
The small piece of solace was that Montana (2-9) showed improvement from the morning to the evening, taking a 2017 NCAA tournament team to four sets, and nearly pushing the Roadrunners to five.
In Montana’s Set-2 victory, the Grizzlies never trailed and led by as many as seven points. After dropping the third set, the Grizzlies led for the majority of the fourth frame, including by three points at 20-17. CSU Bakersfield (5-6) called timeout, though, and responded with a 5-0 run to take control of the set.
“When we put all of our mental and physical energy into doing our jobs, and individually taking care of each of our responsibilities, we are such a tough team to play against,” Lawrence said. “We go through waves of doing that, and you can feel the energy in the gym. It feels so good, but then we’ll have a mental lapse that turns into two or three, and you can feel the momentum shift.”
Against the Roadrunners, senior outside hitter Alexis Urbach had a career-high 21 kills on .390 hitting. She had at least four kills in every set, including seven in the final frame.
Urbach and fellow senior Mykaela Hammer combined for 30 kills on .343 efficiency, but the rest of the offense totaled just 19 kills at a .058 clip.
“We are still struggling to become a team that is consistent and that can execute our game plan consistently,” Lawrence said. “Players will have great matches and then off nights. Figuring out our lineup is a puzzle that has felt frustrating because we go into a match not knowing who’s going to perform on any given night.”
In the morning match, Lawrence was disappointed with her team’s energy. The Grizzlies were close in the first two sets, but were doomed by 13 reception errors.
“It was reminiscent of last weekend where we came out flat and were unable to create our own energy in a neutral gym.” Lawrence said. “Our serve-receive was awful. I don’t know another word for it. You’re just not going to win a match, or a set, when you put yourself in that kind of position.”
UC Santa Barbara (8-4) was swept by CSU Bakersfield on Thursday night before earning straight-set wins over Montana and South Dakota on Friday.
After being aced 13 times in the morning match, Montana totaled eight aces compared to six for CSU Bakersfield. Freshman libero Sarina Moreno had a career-high three, while setter Ashley Watkins had two, to go along with 46 assists.
Montana will close the non-conference portion of its season on Saturday against South Dakota. First serve is at 1 p.m. MT.
UC Santa Barbara 3, Montana 0 (25-23, 25-21, 25-11)
- In Set 1, Montana took a 2-0 lead and the teams were back-and-forth through the first 15 points. After trailing by as many as five points, Montana fought back to get within two points on several occasions. Then, facing set point, 24-21, the Grizzlies got back-to-back points to cut the deficit to one, 24-23, and force a Gauchos timeout. Coming out of the break, UCSB got a kill to take a 1-0 match lead.
- UCSB scored the first seven points of the second set and Montana was never able to recover. Montana forced a UCSB timeout after getting within two, 21-19, and trailed by just two at 22-20, but never could fully get back.
- The Grizzlies had another slow start to the third set, surrendering six of the first seven points. The Gauchos then used an 8-0 run to turn a four-point lead to 12, and won by 14 points – Montana’s largest deficit of the season.
- Montana out-dug the Gauchos, 44-35, led by 13 from setter Ashley Watkins. She recorded a double-double with 27 assists.
- Olivia Bradley, Hammer, Baily Permann and Urbach each had six kills. Urbach did so on .312 hitting (6-1-16).
- UCSB junior Lindsey Ruddins was as good as advertised, recording a match-high 17 kills on .368 efficiency. The outside hitter ranks third in the NCAA with 5.56 kills per set.
CSU Bakersfield 3, Montana 1 (25-18, 19-25, 25-17, 26-24)
- In all three of Montana’s set losses, the Grizzlies were in the set but couldn’t sustain play throughout. The Grizzlies trailed Set 1, 12-11, before a 6-1 run shifted the momentum toward the home team. The two teams were tied seven times in Set 3, including at 10-10, before a 6-0 Roadrunners run. In the fifth set, Montana led for 16 consecutive points – including by as many as four – until CSUB tied it at 20-20.
- Montana never trailed in the second set, jumping out to a 3-0 lead and using a 7-1 run midway through with Urbach and Moreno serving. The Grizzlies hit .407 in the set (14-3-27).
- Bradley had a team-high five blocks and seven kills.