(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- In an offseason of uncertainty and with an upcoming fall that could go in any number of directions -- as scheduled, a partial season, none at all -- it’s a luxury to have three experienced captains to help a team roll with whatever may come its way.
So says Montana soccer coach Chris Citowicki, who will have seniors Avery Adams, Alexa Coyle and Claire Howard guiding his team from within for 2020.
Each was voted All-Big Sky Conference last fall -- Adams first team at midfielder, Coyle, at forward, and Howard, at goalkeeper, both second team -- so they were logical choices from a performance perspective.
That there were other strong options reflects the path Citowicki’s third team has followed over the years and the quality and quantity of players who make up his current group of upperclassmen.
Montana won a Big Sky tournament championship in 2018, in the coach’s first season. The Grizzlies added a regular-season title last fall, without a senior on the roster.
Citowicki now has eight players who have been in the program three-plus years or more, plus seniors Taylor Stoeger, who played her first season as a Grizzly last fall, and Mimi Eiden, a spring addition from North Dakota.
“This year we have a very big, strong group of seniors. You can name them and it just keeps going and going,” Citowicki said.
The captains who were selected will be the backbone of the 2020 team, running the length of the field, from goal line to goal line.
Howard is the program’s career leader with 26 shutouts. Adams, moved from the back line to the midfield early last season to cover for an injury, stepped in and played at an All-Big Sky level. Coyle has led the team in scoring the last three seasons and will take 14 career goals into her final fall as a Grizzly.
“All three of them bring a certain quality. We met right after this process to discuss the most important thing each of them can do to be a leader for this team,” said Citowicki.
“It’s each of them leading by example, and every single one of them has that quality. People look to that and want to follow them into battle.”
Montana put in more than a month of offseason training on campus in late winter before scattering for the final two months of the spring semester.
That’s led to not only remote learning for the classroom but the same thing for continued soccer development.
“We’ve been doing a lot more with tactics. We never have time to get into that because my mind races three million directions with what we want to accomplish in the spring,” said Citowicki.
“Now that this has happened, we get a chance to analyze the tactical side. But you’ve got to do it correctly. You can’t overwhelm them with information.”
So Citowicki has turned to video and position meetings. Watch, discuss, repeat.
“We’ll watch the U.S. national women’s team, then we’ll look at a collegiate team that plays at a high level, then we’ll look at ourselves on an individual level,” Citowicki said.
“Everybody gets assigned a player to analyze every week. I feel like we’re getting so much out of it. It’s so much fun to do, and they are getting better all the time because of it.”
For now Montana will hold out hope that it will report to campus in early August for the start of the 2020 season. The first matches are scheduled to be at home against Gonzaga and UC Riverside on Aug. 20 and 23.
But all sorts of options are in play, and the situation will likely remain fluid right into summer. Could the season be a Big Sky schedule only, with matches not starting until Sept. 25? Sure. Could the season be canceled outright? Sure.
Could everything go according to plan, which would be a full fall of 17 regular-season matches, followed by another tournament championship and NCAA trip, something that’s been on everyone’s mind since last season ended on Nov. 8 in heartbreaking fashion in overtime? Sure.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen and not knowing is scary,” says Citowicki. “But we have a very strong group of seniors who want to go out with a bang. With everything we’re doing, we’re going to be ready for whatever comes our way.”