MISSOULA — The Montana Grizzly soccer team signed eight new players during Wednesday's early signing period.
Leading the way is Kalispell Flathead standout Skyleigh Thompson, who just wrapped up her prep career as the Western AA's top goal and point scorer in the regular season for the second straight year.
Also signed to the Griz were Ally Henrikson of Pueblo, Colorado; Ava Samuelson of Louisville, Colorado; Delaney Lou Schorr of Fort Collins, Colorado; Lena Beaufait of Seattle; Bella O'Brien of Federal Way, Washington; Maddie Seelhoff of Snohomish, Washington and Riley O'Brien of Huntington Beach, California.
“This is a group that is immensely talented,” Griz soccer coach Chris Citowicki said in a media release. “I was watching their film the other day, and it’s amazing how much talent is in this group.
“Now that I’m used to the Big Sky (Conference), I feel like this group is going to be very dominant for many, many years.”
Thompson will give Montana another in-state player to follow in the footsteps of current Grizzlies Alexa Coyle (Bozeman), Quinn Peacock (Missoula) and Josie Windauer (Columbia Falls). Thompson, a forward, finished her senior season at Flathead with 17 goals and three assists. As a junior, she led the Class AA with 24 goals and tallied 11 assists as well.
Riley O’Brien and Schorr are also forwards. O’Brien plays high-level club soccer in Southern California for Slammers FC ECNL. Schorr plays with Arsenal Colorado. The trio will give the Grizzlies even greater depth up front.
Citowicki has changed his thoughts on the back line as well. Most teams will play their center backs all 90 minutes, their outside backs nearly as much. It’s an approach that’s worked well for Montana. The Grizzlies have allowed 41 goals in 41 matches under Citowicki.
But those minutes add up over the course of a season. By November, when the stakes are at their highest, fatigue can result in a misplay, which can lead to a goal that ends a season.
The addition of Beaufait, an outside back, Henrikson, a center back, and Seelhoff, another outside back, addresses that issue. Samuelson, who can play either outside back or on the wing up front, is another potential defender.
Bella O’Brien, whose dad is the technical director for the Pacific Northwest Soccer Club, is the only midfielder in the class.
The Big Sky Conference announced the league soccer schedule last week with Montana opening league play at Portland State on March 12. The Grizzlies, who won the regular-season crown in 2019 and the Big Sky tournament in 2018, were picked as the preseason favorites by the league's coaches.