(Editor’s note: Story by Griz Communications)
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA – It may be hard to see it when looking at the result, a three-set loss (26-24, 29-27, 25-17), but in many ways Montana put up one of its stronger matches of the season on Saturday afternoon, especially considering who its opponent was.
The Grizzlies took Sacramento State to the brink in each of the first two sets, holding set-point opportunities in both frames. Both sets went to extended points, the second by a final score of 29-27.
“I thought that was, by far, our most complete road match of the season,” second-year head coach Allison Lawrence said. “Being able to play with the top of the conference has always been a goal of ours, and I walk away from that match feeling like we absolutely did that.”
Since Montana rallied to beat Sacramento State during both teams’ Big Sky Conference openers on Sept. 20, the Hornets have won eight of their past nine matches to jump into first place. Sacramento State hasn’t lost a set in more than two weeks (15 consecutive set victories).
The Hornets came close – twice – on Saturday.
Set 1: Montana used a 3-0 run to take a three-point advantage, 11-8. The Grizzlies would hold the lead for the next 34 points before Sacramento State took a 21-20 advantage. Still, Montana would fight back to regain the lead, and even held a set-point opportunity at 24-23. The visitors couldn’t capitalize, and instead Sacramento State scored the next three points to win the set.
Montana lost the set despite recording more kills, more digs and a higher hitting percentage. The Grizzlies hit an impressive .311 in the opening frame.
Set 2: After recovering from a 6-0 Sacramento State run early in the set, Montana quickly chipped away, including four consecutive points to tie the score at 9-9. The score would remain tight throughout the set, and after pulling within a single point multiple times, Montana was finally able to break through using a 4-0 run late. The run featured a kill from McKenzie Kramer, a Cassie Laramee service ace, a Sacramento State error and a Missy Huddleston kill to put Montana up 24-23.
Like the first set, Montana couldn’t get that final point. Instead, the two teams would be tied at 24-24, 25-25, 26-26 and 27-27. Montana was able to fight off three Hornet set points, but couldn’t fend off the fourth.
“It’s maddening not to get those (set points), especially when it’s because of unforced errors,” Lawrence said. “Still, as frustrating as that is, to be in that position against one of the most efficient teams in the conference was really fun. Our team really showed up to compete today.”
Set 3: The Grizzlies again led multiple times in a tight third frame. In fact, neither team could pull away with the score being tied at every point from 1-1 through 15-15. However, from there, the Hornets scored seven consecutive points (and 11 of the final 13) to create necessary separation.
The Grizzlies were led by senior Mykaela Hammer’s 15 kills. She also had nine digs and two blocks. Laramee had eight kills, while three others had at least five.
“I thought our offense had some really great moments today,” Lawrence said. “Even in a lot of our five-set wins, our offense wasn’t hitting this consistently.”
The team’s hitting percentage dropped off in the final set, but Montana was hitting .311 after the first set and .286 after two frames.
After beginning league action 5-2, Montana has now lost three consecutive matches to fall back to .500. The Grizzlies will have a short turnaround this week, traveling Bozeman on Tuesday to take on in-state rival Montana State.