(UM Athletics release)
MISSOULA – For the first time since 2014, and just the second time in the past decade, the University of Montana volleyball team is 2-0 to begin Big Sky Conference play. The Grizzlies have now won three consecutive matches, but Saturday felt a bit different, resulting in a quick, three-set sweep over Portland State.
With the Vikings battling injuries, Montana knew that if it could assert its physical dominance early, the Grizzlies could take control of the entire match. That’s exactly what they did, using a 9-1 run early in the first set to take a 12-5 lead they would not relinquish.
The Grizzlies led by as many as 11 points in the opening frame – a season best – and won by a score of 25-16 – also a season best. Montana trailed at just one single point in the second set (2-1) and once more in the third (3-2). Overall, the Grizzlies trailed for just seven points, and never by more than two or later than 5-4.
“Portland State has done a really good job of being resilient through some injuries and tough situations,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “We knew that if we gave them any momentum, especially early, they’re a very competitive team. We wanted to play clean and aggressive and take control of the match, and I thought the girls did a good job of executing and being fearless.”
Montana hit a season-best .294 (its previous high was .220) and held the Vikings to .170 hitting – the second-lowest by a UM opponent this season. Montana had more kills (50 to 28), more digs (59 to 45) and more service aces (7 to 1).
For the second consecutive match, senior Mykaela Hammer was incredible. She totaled 16 kills on .500 hitting, in addition to 11 digs and three service aces. On the weekend, Hammer averaged a double-double with 19.5 kills and 10.0 digs, but most impressive, the outside hitter hit at a .443 clip.
“We’ve been really hard on Mykaela,” Lawrence said. “Our expectations of her are really high; she’s a fifth-year senior. In order for us to do what we want to do, she needs to produce every night. When she chooses to run at that role instead of letting it make her apprehensive, she can take over a match like that. When she does it, it’s really great for her but more importantly really great for our team.”
Saturday’s win was historic on many levels:
- Montana is 2-0 to begin Big Sky play for the second time in the past decade and fifth time in more than 20 years.
- Montana has won three consecutive matches for the first time since October 2014.
- Montana has won three home matches in a row, also for the first time since October 2014.
More so than the historic win, Lawrence was most emotional about what the weekend meant off the court. For the first time in more than a decade, Montana hosted an alumni weekend, welcoming back 13 former players – including All-Americans, school record-holders, conference champions and some of the top students and athletes in school history.
“That was one of the highlights of my whole coaching career, not just a head coach,” Lawrence said. “The moment that the alumni saw each other, to see them and feel their energy and hear their stories was really special for me and for our team.”
The past and present Grizzlies ate dinner together on Friday night, reminiscing and sharing stories, in addition to passing along advice to the younger group.
“The biggest thing was to see their relationships now,” Lawrence continued. “I don’t think they talk very frequently; they have their own busy lives. But the way those bonds come back when they’re in this environment I think made our team realize what the bigger picture is and what this is all about, which is who you are for your teammates.”
Montana has a short turnaround before hosting Montana State on Tuesday night. The match will be played inside Dahlberg Arena, in front of what is expected to be a large crowd.