(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Montana soccer team came out flying on Sunday afternoon for its match at Sacramento State, scoring a pair of goals in the opening 15 minutes, and the Grizzlies rode that momentum all the way to a Big Sky Conference tournament berth.
Montana clinched a postseason spot with a commanding 3-1 victory over Sacramento State at Hornet Field that completed a two-win road trip. The Grizzlies won 1-0 at Portland State on Friday.
Montana (4-7-6, 3-2-4 BSC) was a bubble team three days ago. Now the Grizzlies, who have lost just once in their last eight matches, might be the team no one wants to play in Ogden in two weeks.
“This weekend was huge for us,” said first-year coach Chris Citowicki. “This was back-to-back performances when we created good chances.
“We were shooting to score, not shooting scared. For us to be gearing up on that end is really exciting. It’s not just the defense that’s good now. We’re getting a lot of confidence up front, which is what we were lacking before. It’s looking good.”
Montana will be playing in its fifth consecutive Big Sky tournament and seventh in eight years. The Grizzlies, the No. 5 seed, will face No. 4 Northern Arizona at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31, at Wildcat Soccer Field.
The teams played to a 0-0 draw last Sunday at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
No. 6 Eastern Washington will play No. 3 Northern Colorado at noon on the 31st. No. 1 Weber State and No. 2 Idaho will play the winners in the semifinals on Friday, Nov. 2. The championship match will be played at noon on Sunday, Nov. 4.
Montana needed to win on Sunday to claim a tournament spot. Or, with anything less, sit and hope for the best from a pair of other results.
The Grizzlies took matters into their own hands. Ellie Otteson hit the post in the fourth minute and Taylor Hansen went off the crossbar in the sixth. While nothing changed on the scoreboard, the tone had been set.
Montana broke through in the 11th minute, when a cross by Hansen into the box was whistled dead for a hand ball. Janessa Fowler took the penalty kick and converted low and to the left, and the Grizzlies had their earliest goal of the year.
And they weren’t done. Less than four minutes later, Caitlin Rogers played a ball into the box from the right side, and Kennedy Yost drove a shot into the right side of the net.
“We came out more aggressively than we have before. We were all over them. It was very exciting and great to see,” said Citowicki. “We’ve seen that before, but the goals just haven’t been coming.”
It was the third goal of the season for Fowler, all coming on penalty kicks, all in the last five matches. For Yost, it was her third of the year. All three have come since the start of league play in late September.
It was the first time Montana had scored multiple goals in a match in 364 days, since its 2-1 home win over North Dakota last Oct. 22.
Montana took the match’s first seven shots — scoring twice, putting two more off the frame — and Citowicki couldn’t have been more on edge.
“Being up 2-0 is the worst score in soccer,” he said. “When we went up 2-0, I almost had more anxiety than if it was 0-0.
“All of a sudden, all the pressure is off (Sacramento State). They started coming at us and playing their soccer, which is very direct. They started creating some chances.”
Montana only outshot Sacramento State by one in the first half, 9-8, but led 2-0. Citowicki got the goal he needed to be able to relax in the 63rd minute.
Forty-two seconds after she checked in for her first appearance of the second half, Alexa Coyle made it 3-0 when she ran through a Rogers corner kick, bodying the ball into the net for her team-leading fourth goal of the season.
From there the countdown was on. “As soon as we got that third goal, all my anxiety disappeared and I felt pretty good,” said Citowicki, whose team had an offensive output it hadn’t had since Aug. 27, 2017, a 4-1 home win over San Jose State.
It was late in the 2016 season when Montana last scored three goals on the road, a 3-2 overtime win at Eastern Washington. It was the 2014 season and a 4-3 loss at Missouri that the Grizzlies last scored three goals on the road in regulation time.
All of which is to say Montana may be the team no one wants to face right now, not if the offense truly has caught up to a defense that only allowed seven goalS in nine league matches, with four shutouts.
But before Ogden, it’s Riverside, Calif., and a nonconference match at California Baptist (11-5-1) on Friday at 4 p.m. (MT).