(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
POCATELLO, Idaho – In the end, the result was worth the extended wait – and the extended match.
After 423 days between competition, Montana returned to the court on Sunday afternoon to open a delayed and modified Spring 2021 season. After dropping the first set, the Grizzlies came from behind to beat Idaho State, 3-2, to open the season 1-0 (14-25, 25-21, 25-16, 18-25, 15-8).
"We've been talking about this match, and this opportunity, for 14 months now," fourth-year head coach Allison Lawrence said. "The feeling of getting here was one triumph, and when we finished with a win, that was a second triumph. It feels really good to come away with this win."
Making her Griz debut, senior middle blocker Peyten Boutwell was fantastic, totaling 15 kills and just one error (.609 hitting percentage), in addition to 10 blocks.
Boutwell's 10 blocks were the most by a Grizzly since 2014, when Kapri Richardson registered 10 vs. Kent State. It marked the first time in more than a decade that a Grizzly recorded a kills/blocks double-double, with one having to go back to November 2010 when Jaimie Thibeault did so in a win over, ironically, Idaho State.
"Peyten was unbelievable and played like an upperclassman who has been in this league for several years," Lawrence said.
Making the feat more impressive is knowing Boutwell's backstory.
Boutwell began her collegiate career at UC Riverside, averaging 0.58 kills and 0.58 blocks per set, across 16 matches in 2016 for the Highlanders. She then spent her next three seasons at Abilene Christian, playing in just two total matches and recording one kill. When she had the opportunity to come to Montana as a graduate transfer, she jumped at the opening, and early on, is making the most of it.
"I think it just shows how hard of a worker she has been her entire collegiate career, to earn her time and get her opportunity," Lawrence said. "The way she prepares and practices and manages herself is a model for what we ask all of our players to do. We expect big things from her this season, and I'm just really happy that she's getting an opportunity."
Sophomore Amethyst Harper led all players with 17 kills, doing so at a .333 clip. In her collegiate debut, freshman Sophia Meyers recorded 12 kills. Harper also added 15 digs, one of three defenders in double figures, joining libero Sarina Moreno (15) and defensive specialist Isabelle Garrido (13). Freshman Carly Anderson dished out 36 assists, while sophomore Elsa Godwin served up two aces.
In Montana's set wins, it was easy to see why the team was successful. The Grizzlies hit .297 in their three wins (34-7-91) compared to -.014 their two set losses (15-16-70). Blocking was also big, as Montana totaled 14 blocks on the day, including six in a Set-2 win.
Montana lost badly in the first set, before finding itself trailing early in the second set, 8-6. That's when its defense took over.
Boutwell recorded a stuff block to cut the score to 8-7, before she and Harper teamed up for a block to tie the set at 8-8. Moments later, Boutwell and Anderson combined for a block to tie the set at 10-10, before doing so again twice more in the next three points to give Montana the lead.
The Grizzlies would trail just once more in the second set (for a single point at 17-16), but the visitors quickly got back on track with a kill and block from Boutwell (again teaming up with Anderson), and two kills from Harper, to take a 21-18 advantage, its largest of the set up to that point. The Grizzlies closed out the set moments later, 25-21, before winning the third set by a score of 25-16. In that frame, Montana hit .382 (15-2-34), with Boutwell adding five kills (on seven swings, with no errors), plus two blocks.
Montana jumped out to a 7-2 lead to begin Set 4, and looked as if it could wrap up the match in four sets, before Idaho State followed with 11 of the next 13 points to take control of the frame. Montana would get within two points on several occasions, but never closer, as the Grizzlies hit negative and were blocked five times.
"We were taking big swings, but our lack of experience showed up when we were hitting at our line of approach and swinging really low," Lawrence said. "We weren't scoring at all, so we got to the fifth set and focused on serving and passing, and staying aggressive with our swings.
"You don't gain experience until you get blocked and can learn to still be aggressive and go get balls and go get kills."
In a make-or-break fifth set, Montana made sure to take back control of the momentum early. A Meyers kill gave Montana a 5-3 lead, and then with Anderson serving, the Grizzlies scored the next four points to open up a 9-3 advantage. Montana never trailed in the fifth set, which the Grizzlies won, 15-8, fittingly on a Boutwell kill.
After being blocked five times in the fourth set, Montana was nearly spotless in the fifth, recording just one error and hitting .316.
The win, of course, feels great. The Grizzlies are 1-0 for the second time in the past five years, and 1-0 to begin conference play for just the second time in six seasons. But even better, for Lawrence, is that she feels there's more to her team than what it showed on Sunday.
"The nerves were running high, especially that first set," Lawrence said. "We did some uncharacteristic things and had some moments where we were really passive and unsure how to take over a match, but then we had some moments where our athleticism took over. Today was both encouraging and a lesson that we can build on."
Seasons are filled with constant learning, especially for a team that played four newcomers and five sophomores. But learning from wins is a whole lot better than the other way around.
Montana will now have the opportunity to do it again on Monday (6 p.m. first serve). It will be the Grizzlies' first chance to test out the new Big Sky Conference format for 2021, with teams playing the same opponent, in the same location, on back-to-back days.
"Tonight will be about getting rest, and then tomorrow, we'll get up, review film, make some adjustments and get back into game mode again," Lawrence said. "The biggest thing will be finding quality rest in such a short window, and then going into tomorrow relying on everyone. If there's a part of our game that is stressed by the quick turnaround, we need to have people ready to step up."
Notes: Four players made their Griz debuts on Sunday, including three true freshmen (Anderson, Meyers and middle blocker Madi Chuhlantseff, who recorded four kills… All four newcomers earned starts. A season ago, the Grizzlies started at least three freshmen in every match… Of the 10 players to see the court on Sunday, eight were freshmen or sophomores, and just one (Moreno) had more than a year of experience playing for Montana… The Grizzlies have now beaten Idaho State in three consecutive trips to Pocatello, winning in 2018 and 2019 on the final night of the regular season to qualify for the Big Sky tournament.