(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
HILLSBORO, OR – The Montana soccer team has been inching its way up the Big Sky Conference standings this season, one tie and one point at a time. Finally, a leap forward.
The Grizzlies picked up a key win — and the three big points that come with it — on Friday afternoon, using a second-half goal to defeat Portland State 1-0 at Hillsboro Stadium in Hillsboro, Ore.
While the win didn’t clinch anything for Montana (3-7-6, 2-2-4 BSC) — not yet anyway — it put the Grizzlies in a new position: a team being chased.
With four other matches taking place Friday evening, Montana sits alone in fifth place and could possibly be locked into the six-team Big Sky tournament by night’s end.
“It puts a lot of pressure on some other teams to get a result later today,” said first-year coach Chris Citowicki. “It’s nice to be in the driver’s seat instead of sitting back waiting.”
Montana outshot Portland State 17-7 and had a 9-1 advantage in corner kicks, so it felt like a goal might be coming. A red card and player ejection that left the Vikings with just 10 players made it feel even more inevitable.
In the 57th minute of what was still a scoreless game, Taylor Hansen played a long ball up the middle that made its way through every Portland State defensive player.
It left just McKenzie Warren, the ball and PSU goalkeeper Abbie Faingold in the picture. All three met well outside the 18-yard box, as Faingold came out hard with knees up. She crashed into Warren, who was left motionless on the turf as a result of the play.
A red card was issued, and suddenly Portland State was faced with going forward not only with its backup goalkeeper but with only 10 players on the field.
“Portland State is a team that never stops for 90 minutes. It’s a very physical game. They commit to everything, and they play with so much intensity and passion that it’s very difficult to play against them,” said Citowicki.
“Obviously when we went up a player, it became a bit easier for us because it created more room.”
Montana took advantage 14 minutes later, when Janessa Fowler played a ball up the right side that Alexa Coyle ran onto and scored with a hard, low shot that rolled its way inside the left post.
“Even during the buildup to the goal, we were creating a lot of good chances,” said Citowicki. “Janessa was tremendous with the assist, and Alexa’s finish was perfect.”
Coyle started every match but one last fall as a freshman and was a regular starter this season before Citowicki changed his lineup last weekend, moving Fowler to a forward position.
That had Coyle coming off the bench in Sunday’s 0-0 draw with Northern Arizona and again on Friday.
But they were on the field together when it mattered, with both players doing what they do best: Fowler setting her teammates up, Coyle finishing.
“How long (Janessa) holds it, the types of through-balls she plays, she is more seasoned than Alexa. Alexa still plays a big role. She just comes off the bench to do it,” said Citowicki.
“And she does it exceptionally well. She is the type of person who will step out there and give 100 percent and won’t complain about it. She’ll give 100 percent of what she has for the team.”
While the recent draws — four in the previous six matches — were getting frustrating, they masked the defensive work being done by Montana, which has now allowed just six goals in eight league matches, with four shutouts.
Montana allowed only seven shots against Portland State, four on goal, all of which were stopped by Claire Howard for her seventh shutout of the season, the 14th of her career.
“We defended well, and that’s something we’ve been doing all year,” said Citowicki. “Claire made two incredible saves today. We were sloppy and gave up two chances, but Claire was there to clean up everything.”
Montana will play its final Big Sky match on Sunday afternoon, when it faces Sacramento State (3-12-2, 2-6-0 BSC) at 1 p.m. (MT) in California.
The Hornets lost 3-1 at home to Northern Colorado on Friday afternoon, their fifth consecutive loss, to get eliminated from postseason contention.