(Editor’s note: University of Montana athletics release)
GREELEY, Colo. — Mykaela Hammer waited five years for her opportunity to compete in the Big Sky tournament, and when she finally got her chance, the redshirt senior did not disappoint. Playing in her final collegiate match, Hammer finished with 16 kills on .353 hitting, in addition to eight digs and three blocks.
In the end, it wasn’t enough as Montana fell to co-regular-season champion Idaho, 3-0, in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Championship Thursday afternoon (25-19, 25-20, 25-22).
Montana was looking to become the first No. 7 seed to advance to the semifinals.
“I’m just really proud of our team,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “For us to be as resilient as we have been and to keep fighting the way that we have, and to show the amount of belief in ourselves in this environment that none of these players have been in, is a big testament to who they are as competitors. I think we fought and we wanted it and we laid it all out on the line.”
The end result was frustrating, particularly because Montana hung with the No. 2-seed Vandals for much of all three sets. Montana was within a point, 17-16, in the first set, before Idaho closed on an 8-3 run. In the second, the Grizzlies closed to within two as late as 21-19. Montana led the third set for a good portion of the frame, and the two teams were tied at 22-22 before Idaho earned the final three points.
Idaho, a team with seven seniors – many who have started for several seasons – showed why it was picked as the preseason favorites to win the league. Thursday was the first time any Montana player had played in a Big Sky tournament match.
But, as Lawrence noted, the path has now been paved by this senior class, allowing future Montana teams to get back to this position again, and hopefully take the next step. Hired in January 2017 to rebuild the program, both on and off the court, Lawrence took a five-win team in 2016 to eight victories in 2017 before winning 10 matches in 2018.
The win total is the highest since 2013, as are Montana’s seven Big Sky wins, five home wins and four true road victories.
“I’m proud of them for the legacy that our seniors have left,” Lawrence said. “They’ve left the door open for such a healthy next group to walk through.”
UM’s head coach stressed that the program’s first return to the conference tournament since 2014 will be a motivating factor in the future.
“Being in a championship environment has taught our program and our team more than any other match could have taught us, or anything that the coaches could have said or tried to instill,” she said. :There’s something about this environment that makes you walk a little taller and want it a little more. The team, collectively, will create a memory out of this that will make them hungrier. When you know that this is the reward for the hard work and diligence during the offseason, I don’t know what’s more rewarding than that.”