(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
CHENEY, Wash. – Everything Montana did on Friday night seemed to work, leading to a three-set road win at Eastern Washington.
The Grizzlies were dominant in the opening set, out-hitting the Eagles .440 to .029 and winning 25-12 – Montana’s largest margin of victory in a set this season. In the second set, the Grizzlies held off a late Eagles comeback attempt, and in the final set, Montana came from behind, overcome a three-point deficit (19-16) and scoring the final two points to break a 24-24 tie.
Through it all, Montana hit a season-best .330, its highest percentage since the 2015 season.
“It felt like we dominated the match as a whole,” second-year head coach Allison Lawrence said. “Even in the third set when we were down, we always felt like we were calm and under control.”
After playing first-place Idaho the night before, the Grizzlies faced an Eastern Washington team still in search of its first conference win of the season. Despite that, Lawrence knew the Eagles could be dangerous, and was pleased with her team’s performance, which snapped an eight-match losing skid.
“We felt like the aggressor all night,” she said. “We were using our physicality to get up over the bock.”
Montana out-hit Eastern Washington, .330 to .108, and recorded nine team blocks while being blocked just once. The Grizzlies also had 17 more digs than the Eagles, led by Silerolia Gaogao’s dozen. Junior outside hitter Missy Huddleston led all players with 10 kills, doing so on .318 hitting, but the offense was a balanced effort, with six players recording at least six kills.
“I thought our distribution was really even and we weren’t patterned,” Lawrence said. “Everyone stepping up and scoring gave everyone else opportunities.”
Among the attackers were middle blockers McKenzie Kramer (six kills on .385 hitting) and Baily Permann (six kills at a .556 clip). Both middles also had at least four blocks. Junior setter Ashley Watkins did the distributing, dishing out 31 assists, but she also got in on the scoring by tallying six kills.
After a 5-2 start to Big Sky play, Montana went through a rough patch and aimed to take a step back, focusing more on playing for each other rather than directly on results. Saturday’s win was significant for multiple reasons, however.
- The victory snapped Montana’s season-long eight-match losing streak, dating back to Oct. 13.
- Montana earned its ninth win of the season, the program’s most since 2013.
- Montana won both matches against Eastern Washington this season, the team’s first season sweep over a Big Sky opponent in three seasons.
- Montana’s six Big Sky victories are its most since 2014, the last time the team qualified the Big Sky tournament. The total is more than the Grizzlies had in 2016 and 2017 combined.
- Montana earned its third true road win of the season. The Grizzlies had just one each of the past two seasons.
Also with the win, Montana remains in the driver’s seat to lock up a spot for the Big Sky tournament. The Grizzlies have a two-match lead over Southern Utah (with two to play) and a 1.5-match lead over Portland State (who has three remaining matches; the Vikings play Saturday at Weber State).
The Grizzlies will host Weber State on Thursday before closing the regular season next Saturday at Idaho State.
“This win feels like a huge weight off our shoulders,” Lawrence said. “I think we needed to see some results from our efforts, so this was a really big, emotional win for us. I thought we did a really good job this weekend of playing for our teammates and playing together. It was a special win because we played for each other.”