(Editor’s Note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA – Sometimes when digging yourself out of a hole, the hole becomes deeper before you make progress. That was the case this weekend for the Montana volleyball team, as the Grizzlies fell to 0-3 on the young season after losing to Cal State Fullerton (3-0) and Akron (3-2) on Saturday.
“We want to be all in and really understand who we are, and sometimes that is scary because who we are is not good enough yet,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “The thing about trusting the process is you don’t know when it’s going to work, so we have to keep trusting. I’m all in and the girls are all in, so we have to keep moving forward.”
The Grizzlies began the day against host Cal State Fullerton, falling in straight sets in a match in which Lawrence didn’t feel like her team was prepared – something she took responsibility for. In the nightcap, Montana came out ready, but the Grizzlies weren’t able to finish. Montana won sets 1 and 3 to take a 2-1 lead before Akron rallied to win the final two frames. Making it more painful, the Grizzlies led 24-21 in Set 2, but couldn’t secure the final point.
Both matches are part of the team’s shaping process, and if they help the team succeed in October and November – when the Grizzlies get into Big Sky Conference play – then this weekend, even as painful as it is to think about now, will be worth it.
“Part of preseason is finding your identity and putting yourself in position to succeed come conference play,” Lawrence said. “We’re going to have to fight out of some frustrating moments.”
Another part of the learning process is finding a lineup that works best. In 12 sets to begin the season, the Grizzlies have used five different combinations, including moving sophomore outside hitter Maddy Marshall to libero on Saturday.
The Grizzlies return home next weekend to host the Montana Invitational, but it doesn’t get any easier. They will host two nationally ranked teams on Friday (No. 19 Iowa State and No. 21 Utah) and Gonzaga on Saturday.
“I had hoped that this weekend would give us momentum and solidify this new identity that we have and keep talking about,” Lawrence said. “Instead it smacked us around. We have to learn from that. If this is what we have to go through in order to get better, then we’ll do it.”
Match 1: Cal State Fullerton 3, Montana 0 (25-23, 25-23, 25-18)
· Cal State Fullerton only scored 11 more points than the Grizzlies, but the Titans made plays at the right time to win in straight sets.
· In the opening frame, the set was tied at every point from 1-1 through 9-9, but a 10-2 Titans run opened up a 20-12 advantage. Still, the Grizzlies never gave up, using an 8-1 run of their own to get within a single point, 21-20. The late rally wasn’t enough, falling, 25-23.
· The second set was much of the same. After seeing ties at each point from 9-9 through 13-13, Montana took its first lead of the set at 14-13. The scored was again tied at 19-19 before the Titans scored four of the next five points.
· Montana held a brief lead midway through the third set as well – 12-11 – before a 5-0 Cal State Fullerton run.
· The Grizzlies were paced by junior outside hitter Missy Huddleston’s double-double (11 kills, 13 digs).
Lawrence on the game plan: “We didn’t look prepared – mentally or emotionally – and that’s on me. I have to do a better job of getting the team prepared for matches. I think we walked in a little overconfident. I need to make sure I’m challenging them.”
Lawrence on moving Marshall to libero: “We’ve always had in the back of our minds that if we needed more ball control that we would use one of our outsides. I think we thought if we could steady out our passing that we would be able to take control of the match. She did a good job with the passing once she figured out her responsibilities and spacing, and I thought she added a spark and played aggressively.”
Lawrence on Huddleston: “We’ve been working with Missy on connecting with her teammates and having a lot of energy when she plays. In warmups, she was jumping high and pounding balls and looked ready to go. She’s always a positive person, but that’s the most emotion she’s shown in a match in a long time, and I thought that helped us.”
Match 2: Akron 3, Montana 0 (20-25, 26-24, 22-25, 25-21, 15-10)
· Montana was one point away from presumably sweeping Akron but instead suffered a heartbreaking five-set loss. The pivotal moment came in the second set. Leading 24-21 and needing just a single point to take a 2-0 match lead, the Grizzlies lost the next five points – getting blocked four times – to lose 26-24.
· Earlier in the second set, Montana trailed by as many as eight points, 15-9, before using an 11-1 run to not only erase the deficit but take the lead. During the run, Montana had three blocks.
· Montana bounced back from the tough Set-2 loss and played its best set of the young season. The Grizzlies used a 10-2 run to turn a 7-7 tie into an eight-point advantage – its largest of the season.
· After trailing the fourth set by eight, 13-5, Montana used an 8-1 run to get within a single point, 14-13. The Grizzlies were again within one point at 18-17, but couldn’t get over the hump.
· Montana fell behind in the first-to-15 deciding set and trailed 8-4 when the teams switched sides. The Grizzlies fought back to 8-7 before Akron won the next five points.
· Mykaela Hammer (12 kills), Huddleston (11) and Cassie Laramee (10) were all in double figures for kills, but all hit below .200.
· Freshman Olivia Bradley had the best match of her young career, recording seven kills on .400 hitting, in addition to four blocks. The middle blocker started both matches on Saturday.
· Sophomore Baily Permann had six kills on .500 hitting, plus a team-high-tying five blocks (along with Hammer). Huddleston had a team-most 17 digs for her second double-double of the day.
· Montana out-blocked Akron 13-7 and had eight service aces compared to just six errors. The Grizzlies also had just 18 attack errors compared to Akron’s 33 but had 21 fewer kills and 18 fewer digs.
Lawrence on fighting back during sets: “We fought back a lot more in that match. I thought it was a good response from our first match, at least. When we’re down we get this sense of urgency and go on these huge runs. We all as a group are so frustrated because we have the abilities to run points on teams and physically overwhelm them and nail every point on our scouting report, but then we have a lapse – either mental errors or energy letdowns. We just can’t sustain our high level of play right now.”