MISSOULA — It's been a fast start for the Montana athletics department.
Football opened its season of high expectations with a shutout over Northwestern State. Meanwhile, the volleyball program is off to a 4-2 start this season after recently going 2-1 at a tournament across the country in Indianapolis. The Griz soccer team also won two games over this past weekend, improving their record to 2-2-2.
For soccer — a program that has gone to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments — it's been as challenging a non-conference slate as any in the country, and the Griz have weathered that storm well.
"It's extremely important to play teams of that level so that when you get to the NCAA Tournament and you play high level teams, you don't get shocked again, you don't get surprised," UM head coach Chris Citowicki said. "And that was the biggest step forward for us with Pitt was we didn't decide to sit back and bunker in a 5-4-1 and hope to maybe catch them on a counter. We wanted to play against them to see if we could do it. We held out, we did extremely well and I'm looking forward to playing another team of that caliber."
Opponents like Pitt (2-0 loss), Creighton (0-0 tie), Portland (0-2 loss) and Wyoming (2-2 tie) were how UM started the season, and three of those teams in Pitt, Creighton and Portland have yet to lose a game this year.
And it won't ease up from there as UM is slated to take on three straight foes from the Mountain West Conference coming up, as they aim to end on a high note before heading into conference play toward the end of the month. The Griz play at Colorado State on Thursday, host Fresno State on Sunday, play at Boise State on Sept. 15 and host North Dakota State on Sept. 18 to end the non-conference portion of their schedule.
Recently, the Grizzlies picked up their first two wins of the season with a 6-0 victory over Montana State Billings and a 3-0 victory over CSU Bakersfield. For their efforts, Delaney Lou Schorr and Allie Larsen were named the Big Sky Conference players of the week.
"I feel like with our tough non-conference schedule, it's always just trying to take what you can to build your confidence, and I guess these last two games just scoring a lot of goals and realizing that everything is coming together," fifth-year defender McKenzie Kilpatrick said. "It's flowing better and when the goals start coming too it's almost a sense of relief almost. It's like, it's working, it's where it's supposed to be right now."
The Griz volleyball team is off to their best start in 14 years as Montana has kicked off the season with a 4-2 record.
After hosting their own tournament to open the season and going 2-1, the Grizzlies made the trek across the country and came back with two more wins, and sophomore outside hitter Paige Clark earned conference offensive player of the week honors.
It's a strong start for a program that has hit a rough patch over the last few years.
"It's exciting to see how we're playing and starting to come together as a group and obviously we all have that end goal but I think we're all going to take it one game at a time and try to prepare as best we can for each situation," Clark said. "We're all super close and I feel like we're going to do this together and that's what's going to be fun about the whole thing."
The Grizzlies have two more tournaments to attend in non-conference — one in Texas and one in South Carolina where they will play three games at each tournament — before getting their conference slate underway later in September.
And they'll look to continue this momentum going forward as they work to build on this latest start.
"There's patterns that we have that we'll continue to show up and be resilient in all contexts which is really fun," Griz head coach Allison Lawrence said. "And then there's some breakdowns in there too where it's fun to plan practice around those things and see, 'OK, can we tweak this, and we eliminate this," from our patterns so I feel like I know them really well."