(Editor’s note: Story by Griz Communications)
MISSOULA – The final score might suggest 110 minutes of tedium, but that was hardly the case on Sunday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula as Montana and North Dakota played to an exciting and tense 0-0 draw.
The Grizzlies (1-3-1) peppered UND goalkeeper Olivia Swenson with 17 shots, eight of which were on goal — and those didn’t include a shot off the post and another off the crossbar — and Montana keeper Claire Howard made three saves of her own to complete her second shutout of the weekend.
The chances, more in favor of the Grizzlies but not exclusively so, were plentiful and the ensuing counters were often threatening, but in the end, both teams had to be satisfied with a scoreless draw to show for their efforts on the third weekend of the soccer season.
“That was a completely entertaining match, and that’s what we expected. We played a team that is extremely organized and very good on the counter,” said Montana coach Chris Citowicki.
“They sat in and defended very well and didn’t open up the spaces we wanted to attack. It was tough for us to find the solution. We kept trying and got extremely close. They just didn’t go in.”
Ellie Otteson generated Montana’s first dangerous opportunity when her header in the 15th minute went wide right. But it was McKenzie Warren’s shot in the 24th that illustrated what the Grizzlies were up against.
Collecting the ball 30 yards from the goal, Warren slalomed through a number of North Dakota defenders before finding a sliver of space in which to get off her shot. It clanged off the left post and skittered across the goal line, so close but with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
Swenson made four saves in the first half — two on shots on goal by Warren — which got her team to the locker room deadlocked at 0-0.
North Dakota was the more dangerous team in the early stages of the second half before the teams settled into a back-and-forth of attacks and parries.
Kennedy Yost grazed a free kick off the crossbar in the 83rd minute, and Swenson made her save of the game in the second minute of the first overtime, lying out to push a Warren shot that would have ended it wide of the goal.
“I am extremely proud of our group for going at it and trying and trying and creating those chances, which are so difficult in a game like this,” said Citowicki.
“In the end we can be happy that we didn’t get scored on and that we created a ton of good opportunities, but we need to be able to score. If we get into conference play and get down 1-0 and the other team sits in, you have to find a way to score a goal.”
North Dakota (3-0-1), which still has not allowed a goal this season, entered the game unbeaten at 3-0-0 and was an easy opponent for Citowicki to prepare a scouting report on. He was on UND’s coaching staff last year and helped bring in a number of the players who have the Fighting Hawks off to a fast start.
“When they countered today, they were extremely dangerous, and that’s what we recruited last year,” Citowick said. “We knew we were organized but we couldn’t score, so we needed quicker players.
“Everyone saw those players today. They had speed up top and were very dangerous. If you can’t break them down, they can hurt you.”
Citowicki once again didn’t go deep into his bench — North Dakota used 10 subs to Montana’s five. All of the Grizzlies who came on were true or redshirt freshmen.
Kylie Hanson and McKenzie Kilpatrick both made their third appearance of the season, while Sami Siems and Zoe Transtrum made their fourth in five matches. Siems played 61 solid minutes at holding midfielder, splitting time again with another freshman, Ali Monroe, who got the start.
“It was nice to rotate in some of the freshmen and watch them play and get the job done,” said Citowicki.
Outside of the four minutes Kilpatrick played, Montana’s starting back line — Taryn Miller and Caitlin Rogers at center back, Taylor Hansen and Avery Adams at outside back — was on the field for the duration.
They limited North Dakota, even with all the Fighting Hawks’ counters, to three shots in the first half and 11 for the match.
Howard only needed to make three saves — but was also required to make several nice reads to get her gloves on some dangerous crosses before they could become shots — to record her ninth career shutout.
Warren took a career-high seven shots and matched a career high by putting three of them on goal.
Having played four of its first five matches at home, Montana will now face a stretch of difficult road games before opening Big Sky HowConference at home against Northern Colorado on Sunday, Sept. 23.
The Grizzlies’ next three opponents — Wyoming, UNLV and Washington State — are a combined 11-1-2.
Montana will play at Wyoming (3-0-1) on Friday at 4 p.m. and at UNLV (4-1-1) next Sunday at 2 p.m. (MT). The Grizzlies will play the unbeaten Cougars (4-0-0) on Friday, Sept. 14, in Pullman.