(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – The Montana soccer team, with eight starters back after last fall’s second-place finish but with a new coach, was picked third in the Big Sky Conference preseason poll that was released on Tuesday morning.
The Grizzlies, who lost in double-overtime in the Big Sky tournament semifinals in November at Cheney, Wash., collected one first-place vote.
Eastern Washington, last year’s regular-season champion and the league’s NCAA tournament representative the last two years, was picked first. The Eagles collected eight of 10 first-place votes.
Northern Colorado, which as the No. 3 seed knocked off No. 2 Montana at last season’s tournament, was picked second and received the other first-place vote.
The Eagles were the easy choice to top the poll after going 8-1-1 in league last season and outscoring their two Big Sky tournament opponents 5-1. They lost at USC in the first round of the NCAA tournament but gave the Trojans everything they could handle before falling 2-1 in double overtime.
Eastern Washington lost Chloe Williams, the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year the last three seasons, and its starting goalkeeper but still returns five players who scored three or more goals last season for a team that outscored its opponents 48-26.
Northern Colorado advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2015 and is tied with Montana for having the best record in the Big Sky (35-18-12) the last seven seasons.
Trailing Montana 1-0 midway through the second half in the Big Sky semifinals last November, Northern Colorado evened the match in the 72nd minute, then won it 3:53 into the second overtime.
Eastern Washington dispatched Northern Colorado 3-0 in the tournament championship match.
In a fortuitous bit of scheduling, Montana will open its Big Sky schedule against the two teams picked ahead of it in the preseason poll, and both matches will be played at South Campus Stadium, where the Grizzlies are unbeaten (9-0-3) in their last dozen games.
Rounding out the 10-team poll were Northern Arizona (4), Sacramento State (5), Portland State (6), Idaho (7), Weber State (8), Southern Utah (9) and Idaho State (10).
Northern Arizona, Portland State and Sacramento State all made the six-team Big Sky tournament last fall. Montana will get Northern Arizona at home and face Portland State and Sacramento State on the road to close out its league schedule.
This year’s tournament will be played at Ogden, Utah, with opening-round matches being played on Wednesday, Oct. 31. Semifinals are scheduled for Friday, Nov. 2, the championship match for Sunday, Nov. 4.
The Grizzlies open their schedule on Friday, Aug. 17, with a home match against Fresno State as part of the Montana Cup. Two days later they will host San Francisco at 1 p.m., part of a nine-match home schedule.
2018 Big Sky Conference preseason poll
1. Eastern Washington (8) … 78
2. Northern Colorado (1) … 69
3. Montana (1) … 66
4. Northern Arizona … 51
5. Sacramento State … 50
6. Portland State … 43
7. Idaho … 33
8. Weber State … 31
9. Southern Utah … 20
10. Idaho State … 9