(Editor’s note: Story by Montana Sports Information)
LAS CRUCES, N.M. – Montana volleyball fans may need to invest in some blood-pressure medication. The Grizzlies played their third five-set match of the young season on Friday night, including their second in the past week. After feeling elation during last week’s win over Gonzaga, the Grizzlies experienced the painful feeling of narrow defeat on Friday night, falling at New Mexico State (25-18, 19-25, 25-18, 21-25, 15-13).
New Mexico State (6-2), winners of the past three Western Athletic Conference titles, took a 2-1 set lead, and led the fourth set 14-11. Montana showed it was willing to fight back, though, using an 8-0 run to take a five-point lead. The Grizzlies closed out the frame to force a deciding fifth set.
Again trailing the fifth set, 13-10, Montana rattled off three consecutive points to tie the score.
The Aggies, which have now gone more than a year without losing on their home court, got the next two points to narrowly escape Montana and extend their home winning streak to 15 matches.
“We’re fighting,” second-year head coach Allison Lawrence said. “We are in matches. It feels more and more each match, no matter what the score is, we are having a consistent push and consistent fight.”
The end result once again wasn’t the outcome Montana (1-7) has been working toward, but it’s clear there’s been progress since Week 1 of the season. Montana had more kills, a higher hitting percentage and more blocks than the Aggies.
“When we choose the right things to focus on and let our physicality guide us through, we can put a ton of pressure on any team,” Lawrence said. “We were going on huge runs, and they couldn’t figure out how to get out if it.”
The difference, though, was unforced errors – particularly in the fifth set. Eight of New Mexico State’s 15 points in the deciding set came on Montana errors, in addition to a free ball that dropped for a kill.
“The only disappointing part about this match were the errors,” Lawrence said. “We got to 13-all, but then had a misconnection. We put ourselves in position by playing really loose, but then there were a few really tight moments at the end where we tightened up.”
Mykaela Hammer had the best match of her senior season, recording 20 kills. In the second set alone, she had eight kills and a block. During Montana’s 8-0 run in the fourth set, she had half of Montana’s points – two kills and two blocks.
“I was proud of her,” Lawrence said. “They were clearly keying in on her, and there were some moments in the first set where she looked a little flustered. She worked out of that and got back to her aggressive game, and that opened everything up for her.”
While New Mexico State was playing its only match of the day, the Grizzlies were playing their second. In the morning, Montana faced its third top-30 team in the past week, falling to Arizona in straight sets (25-18, 25-23, 25-14). The Grizzlies were close in the second set, seeing ties at every point from 13-13 through 19-19, before the Wildcats closed out the frame. Junior Missy Huddleston led the Grizzlies with 11 kills and nine digs.
“It was a frustrating match, because I didn’t feel like we could control our own side,” Lawrence said. “They’re a physical team and got us on our heels in ways that we allowed to happen.”
Montana now has a short turnaround, traveling to El Paso, Texas, to face UTEP Saturday at 11 a.m. – the team’s third match in a 25-hour period.
Additional Notes – Arizona Match
• Junior outside hitter Missy Huddleston had more than one-third of Montana’s kills, finishing with 11, in addition to nine digs.
• Senior setter Brittany Gay saw regular action, recording 13 assists and five digs, in addition to a kill.
• For the first time in seven matches this season, Montana used the same starting lineup, going with Mykaela Hammer, Missy Huddleston, Maddy Marshall, McKenzie Kramer, Baily Permann, Ashley Watkins and Sarina Moreno.
• Montana had just one service error in the match.
• Arizona’s Kendra Dahlke, who ranks No. 2 nationally for kills per set, again led the Wildcats with 18 kills on .417 hitting. No other player was in double figures. The Wildcats improved to 8-0 on the season with a win over UTEP Friday afternoon.
Additional Notes – New Mexico State Match
• During NMSU’s 15-match home win streak, which dates back to Sept. 2, 2018, the Aggies have lost five total sets (two of them were tonight). This was the first time they have been stretched to five sets.
• Montana’s 8-0 run in the fourth set was its longest of the season.
• Montana’s .229 hitting percentage was a season best. Setter Ashley Watkins paced the offense with a season-best 55 assists.
• In addition to Hammer, Cassie Laramee (12) and Baily Permann (10 on .381 hitting) had season highs for kills.
• Junior Missy Huddleston recorded her third double-double of the season (12 kills, 12 digs).
• Freshman Olivia Bradley had six kills on .455 hitting, in addition to four blocks and a service ace.
• Hammer added a team-high six blocks, 10 digs and a service ace to her 20 kills.
• The Grizzlies hit .452 during their Set-2 victory. In their Set-4 win, they held New Mexico State to .053 hitting.