(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MOSCOW, ID – Montana knew it would be tough, playing first-place Idaho on the road, a team that hasn’t lost at home once during conference play or at all since September.
That challenge was tough, and despite a three-set sweep (25-23, 25-11, 25-21), Montana was able to find some positives.
For one, the Grizzlies hit .210 on the night, their fifth-best hitting percentage of the season, doing so against a team that ranks in the top 20 percent nationally for opponent hitting. Contributing to the high percentage, Montana was blocked just five times, despite going up against a team that ranks 26th nationally in that category.
“To hit .210 against Idaho, who defensively is very, very good, it gives us confidence moving forward,” head coach Allison Lawrence said.
The five team blocks was Idaho’s lowest total since the first match of the season, and the fewest in 22 Big Sky matches dating back to last season.
The Grizzlies were led by sophomore Baily Permann, who had 10 kills on .600 hitting (10-1-15), in addition to four blocks. During a 6-0 run in the first set, Permann had three blocks and a kill to give Montana a match-high six-point lead.
“Baily did such a good job tonight,” Lawrence said. “She had good vision, she was approaching hard off the block and she played with confidence and blocked so well.”
Montana was unable to hold the 20-14 advantage, however, as Idaho stormed back to tie the score at 23-23, before taking the final two points. The Set-1 loss, in a sense, was a backbreaker, as Montana lost despite out-hitting Idaho, in addition to recording more kills, blocks and service aces.
“It’s the same things we’ve been talking about,” Lawrence said. “When we’re playing well and attacking well, we can be really good, but the difference is one serve-receive breakdown or a couple errors here or there.”
Montana’s near-set victory was even bigger considering how good Idaho has been on its home court. The Vandals are 7-0 at home during Big Sky play, winning 21 of 24 sets.
Following the heartbreaking loss in Set 1, Montana was no match in the second set, losing 25-11. The Grizzlies were competitive in the third set, being tied as late as 20-20, before the Vandals closed out the match.
As good as Montana’s offense was against a strong Idaho defense, the Vandals’ offense was hard to stop. They hit .311, including 13 kills from Big Sky Offensive Player of the Week Sarah Sharp.
Montana will have a quick turnaround, now traveling to Cheney, Wash., to take on Eastern Washington Friday night. The Grizzlies beat the Eagles last month in Missoula, and will aim for a season sweep as they continue their pursuit of a conference tournament berth. Montana State beat Eastern Washington on Thursday night, but Portland State and Southern Utah – the two teams chasing Montana, one game back – both lost this week.
“We focused all week on connecting as teammates on the court, no matter what, and playing for each other,” Lawrence said. “I thought we did that really well tonight; we had great energy. We’re trying to focus less about what each match means and more about stepping up for each other, and if we do that the results will take care of themselves.”