(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – Missoula continues to be a tough place for opponents to play, with Montana defeating Eastern Washington, 3-1, on Thursday night, earning its fifth consecutive home victory (25-16, 25-20, 26-28, 25-18).
The offense was clicking from the start, leading to the team’s highest hitting percentage in three seasons. As a team, Montana hit .328 on the evening, led by mind-boggling numbers in the first two sets.
The Grizzlies made just four hitting errors through the first two frames, attacking at a .423 clip in Set 1 and .500 in Set 2. Montana’s second-set percentage was the highest this season, while its first-set numbers were the third-best.
“We had good vision and made good decisions,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “It was really fun to see Ashley (Watkins) confident setting the middles. We’ve been working on our patterns, so in this type of match, to be able to try and change our patterns without getting us out of rhythm, I thought was really good.”
The Grizzlies had four players in double figures for kills, and all four hit at least .276. Senior outside hitters Mykaela Hammer (18) and Alexis Urbach (11) combined for 29 kills at a .323 rate, while in the middle, both Olivia Bradley and Baily Permann had 10 kills apiece.
Bradley’s 10 kills came without an error, hitting .625 – the best percentage by a Grizzly this season.
Setting up the offense was junior setter Ashley Watkins, who dished out 50 assists, in addition to four kills, four blocks and a service ace.
“We had some high numbers, and we had some balanced numbers,” Lawrence said. “We really had a good offensive night from everyone, but I thought Alexis Urbach had a really efficient match. She didn’t make a lot of errors and executed well. In the middle, Olivia Bradley was off the charts offensively.
While the attacking was on point, so was the rest of Montana’s game. The Grizzlies had seven service aces – two each by Maddy Marshall and Sarina Moreno – and 12 blocks, led by six from Permann. The seven aces are the fourth-most in a match this season, while the 12 team blocks rank third.
With the win, Montana:
• Extended its home winning streak to five matches, the best stretch since 2011.
• Improved its Big Sky record to 5-2, just the second time since 1995 the Grizzlies have won five of their first seven league matches.
• Equaled its conference win total from 2016 and 2017 combined.
• Equaled its overall win total from last season, with at least 11 matches still to play.
“The growth we’re seeing is a huge testament to the team,” Lawrence said. “It’s nice to look back, and I hope we all feels the momentum that’s been growing since January 2017. That’s been what’s carrying us. The entire team has done an incredible amount of work to make this happen, and I’m just really proud of them.”
The Grizzlies were in full control through the first two sets, never trailing in either set. Eastern Washington got within 14-13 in the opening frame before the Grizzlies closed on an 11-3 run, including three kills from Urbach and two kills and a block from Bradley. Marshall had her two service aces during a stretch in which Montana scored seven straight points. The Grizzlies were successfully able to sideout at an 81-percent rate.
Montana was again able to pull away late in the second set, scoring seven of the final 10 points. Overall, 13 of the Grizzlies’ points in that frame came from kills, doing so on just 22 swings.
Montana trailed by as many as three points early in the third set, but fought back to take control, and was in great position to finish off the sweep. The fact that the Grizzlies weren’t able to was one of the only blemishes on the night, as Eastern Washington fought off four match points to win the third frame, 28-26. Montana would leave no doubt in the fourth set, however, jumping out to a quick lead and doubling up the Eagles as late as 18-9.
The Grizzlies will have a tall task on Saturday, facing preseason favorite Idaho at 2 p.m. The Vandals beat Montana State on Thursday evening to improve to 5-2 in league play.
All children 12 and under get into the match for free. Additionally, anyone who participated in a Montana volleyball summer camp can get in free by wearing her or his camp T-shirt. Following the match, the Griz players will hold a one-hour youth clinic. The clinic is free, but participants must be registered online.