(Editor's note: Montana athletics release.)
MISSOULA — The Montana soccer team, which went unbeaten through league and had one of the best regular seasons in conference history, was rewarded for its high level of play this fall with a number of Big Sky Conference honors on Thursday.
Sixth-year coach Chris Citowicki, who has led his team to six regular-season or tournament championships, collected his first Big Sky Coach of the Year honor after guiding the Grizzlies to a 13-2-3 regular season and a 7-0-1 run through the league.
Montana, which hasn’t lost since Sept. 10, will enter next week’s Big Sky tournament in Flagstaff, Ariz., as the top seed and on a seven-match winning streak and a 10-match unbeaten streak.
Citowicki becomes Montana’s third Big Sky Coach of the Year winner. Betsy Duerksen was honored in 1999, Mark Plakorus in 2014.
Skyleigh Thompson was voted the Offensive MVP, Abby Gearhart the Newcomer of the Year and Ashlyn Dvorak the Freshman of the Year. Delaney Lou Schorr, who tied for first in league play with four goals and nine points, won the Golden Boot award.
Thompson, Dvorak and Schorr were named first-team All-Big Sky, as were Charley Boone and Ava Samuelson, giving Montana five first-team selections for the first time since 2004.
Kathleen Aitchison and Maddie Ditta were voted second-team All-Big Sky.
Thompson, one of the most feared forwards in the Big Sky because of her speed, physicality, work rate and ball-striking ability, becomes Montana’s seventh Offensive MVP, its first since Erin Craig in 2012.
Thompson entered her junior year with five career goals, two assists. This season, her breakout campaign, she has totaled six goals and four assists. Her 16 points rank second in the Big Sky.
In the first year of the Big Sky splitting Newcomer of the Year into two separate awards, Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year, Montana swept them both.
Gearhart, who transferred to Montana after playing four years at Bucknell, was the impact player everyone was hoping for this season, totaling four goals and one assist. Three of her goals and her assist came during league.
Dvorak, who ranks among the national leaders in save percentage (.906), shutouts (11) and goals-against average (0.44), was voted Freshman of the Year. She and her teammates have allowed eight goals this season through 18 matches, four better than the all-time Big Sky record.
Montana ranks first in the nation in save percentage, is tied for fourth in shutouts and seventh in goals-against average.
Schorr, who scored four of her five goals this season during league play, including the game-winner against Idaho, Northern Arizona and Portland State, becomes Montana’s fifth Golden Boot winner, the Grizzlies’ first since 2006.
She is Montana’s first forward to repeat as first-team All-Big Sky since Craig in 2011 and ’12.
Boone, All-Big Sky for the first time, is one of Montana’s two rock-solid center backs, while Samuelson, second-team All-Big Sky last season, is arguably the best and most skilled end-line to end-line player in the Big Sky. Her six assists rank second in the league.
Aitchison and Ditta, both second-team midfielders, were instrumental in Montana’s full-field balance, as the Grizzlies scored 33 goals, the most for the program since 2000 and the most in the Big Sky this season when playing Division I opponents.
Montana’s eight goals allowed entering the postseason puts the Grizzlies on pace to have the best defensive season in program and league history.
Ditta had three goals and an assist during the regular season. All three of her goals were game-winners, against Utah Tech, Idaho State and Northern Colorado.
Aitchison, who specializes in making slide tackles look easy and effortless, scored her first collegiate goals this season, against Utah Tech in a 4-0 victory and the game-winner in Montana’s 1-0 win over Oklahoma on a memorable day in Spokane.
Of Montana’s eight players who received Big Sky recognition, six will be back next season. The Grizzlies will lose Gearhart and Aitchison.
2023 Big Sky Conference Individual Awards
Offensive MVP: Skyleigh Thompson, Montana
Co-Defensive MVP: Alyssa Peters, Idaho; Allie Larsen, Northern Arizona
Goalkeeper of the Year: Kira Witte, Idaho
Newcomer of the Year: Abby Gearhart, Montana
Freshman of the Year: Ashlyn Dvorak, Montana
Golden Boot: Delaney Lou Schorr, Montana
Coach of the Year: Chris Citowicki, Montana
First-Team All-Big Sky
G: Ashlyn Dvorak, Montana
D: Alyssa Peters, Idaho *
D: Charley Boone, Montana
D: Allie Larsen, Northern Arizona
D: Ava Samuelson, Montana
M: Abigail Lopez, Sacramento State
M: Jayd Sprague, Idaho
M: Maddie Shafer, Northern Arizona
M: Sienna Higinbotham, Portland State
F: Skyleigh Thompson, Montana
F: Delaney Lou Schorr, Montana
F: Jadyn Hanks, Idaho
* Unanimous selection
Second-Team All-Big Sky
G: Kira Witte, Idaho
G: Trinity Corcoran, Northern Arizona
D: Marta Nieto, Idaho State
D: Logan Maszton, Northern Arizona
D: Hailey Green, Portland State
D: Cassidy Elicker, Idaho
D: Rebekah Reyes, Idaho
M: Margo Schoesler, Idaho
M: Madi Kem, Eastern Washington
M: Maddie Ditta, Montana
M: Kathleen Aitchison, Montana
M: Dai Williams, Northern Arizona
F: Maddie Morgan, Eastern Washington
F: Allison Veloz, Northern Arizona
F: Josie Novak, Northern Arizona
Honorable Mention All-Big Sky Conference
G: Izzy Palmatier, Sacramento State
D: Lucy Roberts, Northern Colorado
D: Erika Tilford, Sacramento State
D: Sammy Wong, Sacramento State
D: Olivia Tucker, Weber State
M: Abi Hoffman, Portland State
M: Hannah Alfaro, Idaho
M: Morgan Furmaniak, Weber State
F: Raniyah Burton, Portland State
F: Grace Kirby, Weber State