MISSOULA — The Montana volleyball program is having it's best season in 23 years at 15-10 overall and 8-5 in Big Sky Conference play, and at the core of that is hometown product Sarina Moreno.
Moreno is utilizing her COVID season for a fifth year of eligibility this year with the Grizzlies, and for the Missoula Sentinel product, it's been a special run in her final season.
"I always knew there was potential, but we really started to come together and play really good volleyball toward the end of our season, and I just knew that was going to get better and better, so I decided to come back and be a part of that," Moreno said.
Moreno wasn't sure if she would use her extra year of college volleyball, but a win over Montana State to cap last season showed Moreno what this team could accomplish.
"I just felt like my career here wasn't done yet, and I have that opportunity, and I knew in the future I would probably be regretful if I didn't take that opportunity," Moreno said. "So I decided to come back and I knew we were going to be really good, and the team dynamic was really good because we had a lot of returners so I think that was my thought process through that."
UM head coach Allison Lawrence said not only has it been special to have Moreno back, but her decision to stay had a major impact on the team.
"I think her decision to stay was an indication to her and everyone around her that this is going to be our year, this is going to be a really fun, really competitive, high winning year for us," Lawrence said. "So I think her choice kind of sent ripples through the team of Sarina believes and is staying because of the success we're going to have, and so everyone holds their shoulders a little bit higher in that way. I think she just gives us so much confidence."
After a standout prep career with the Spartans, Moreno has seen the Griz program steadily grow over the years to this latest season, and in turn, has seen herself grow as well, as a rare five-year starter at libero.
"I think as a freshman, I would get down easily if we weren't playing well, if I personally wasn't playing well and I'd get very internal and now I just learned to move on to the next point," Moreno said. "If games aren't going my way or our way, I think I just really have to be calm and cool and collected, and I think that's gotten a lot better throughout the years."
She's inching up the record books as well. With 1,803 digs to her name, Moreno needs 45 more to surpass Jackie White as the all-time digs leader at UM.
Moreno and the Grizzlies welcome Montana State this Friday in the second meeting with their rival this season. The Griz beat the Bobcats back on Sept. 30 and have won two straight games against MSU.
And it's been a unique and special run for Moreno and the Griz, a program she grew up watching, and now, stars for.
"I watched a lot when I grew up," Moreno said. "We'd come here a lot in high school. A lot of high school teams come and watch us play so that was me when I was in high school so it meant a lot to be able to put this jersey on and play for them."