(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA – Montana celebrated its senior class prior to Saturday night’s match vs. Southern Utah, but once the match began, the Thunderbirds were the ones doing the celebrating. Southern Utah swept the Grizzlies in a pivotal Big Sky Conference match (25-23, 25-17, 25-20).
The Grizzlies had 20 more digs than the Thunderbirds (69 to 49), a large reason why Montana was virtually even with Southern Utah for kills (34 to 36). The problem, for Montana, were the 28 attack errors. The Grizzlies hit a season-low .050, including -.073 in the second set.
Senior outside hitter Mykaela Hammer led all players with 15 kills on .219 hitting, in addition to 11 digs. The rest of the team combined for just 19 kills on negative hitting (19-20-89). Montana’s middle blockers hit -.100 (3-5-20), while the outsides, aside from Hammer, hit .023 (15-14-44).
Southern Utah recorded 12 team blocks, leading to many of the attack errors.
“We can’t find what we need mentally to compete at the level we need to,” second-year head coach Allison Lawrence said. “I don’t think it’s a lack of desire, but it just feels like if we aren’t in rhythm from the start then we unravel.”
The match started out well for the Grizzlies, who led by as many as three in the first set and didn’t trail for the first time until 12-11. At that point, Southern Utah scored nine of 10 points to open up a commanding lead. Montana would fight back to get within one point several times, including at 24-23, but could never even the set.
Set 2 was all Thunderbirds as the visitors jumped out to an 11-3 lead and never looked back. The teams alternated points in the third set, with Montana either leading by one or tied for a good portion of the set. And then, with the Griz leading 15-14, Southern Utah used a 5-1 run to take control of the set and match.
Freshman libero Sarina Moreno had 21 digs and back-to-back service aces in the second set. She was one of three players in double figures for digs. Sophomore outside hitter Maddy Marshall had 16 digs in addition to two blocks.
The match wasn’t a must-win situation, but a victory would have set the Grizzlies up nicely going into the final two weeks of the regular season. A win would have given Montana a three-game lead over Southern Utah and a two-game advantage over Portland State (the Vikings beat Eastern Washington, 3-1, Saturday afternoon). Instead, Montana lost for the seventh consecutive match after a 5-2 start to conference play.
“When there wasn’t so much pressure on us, we were playing loose and aggressive,” Lawrence said. “We had nothing to lose and everything to prove and played in a way that was hungry and desperate to show who we had become. It’s almost like we turned that corner and as soon as it came down to it, we froze up. We have to find a way to get back to where we were.”
Montana remains tied for seventh place with Montana State – which lost 3-0 to Northern Arizona on Saturday. One game behind both the Grizzlies and Bobcats are both Southern Utah and Portland State. After four more matches, two teams will claim the final spots in the Big Sky tournament while two will stay at home.
Montana hits the road this week, traveling to first-place Idaho (Thursday) and winless Eastern Washington (Friday).