(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- The Montana soccer team, with seven returning starters from last year’s Big Sky Conference championship squad, has been picked third in the league’s 2019 preseason coaches’ poll.
The Grizzlies went 7-9-6 last season, their first under coach Chris Citowicki, and tied for fifth in the regular-season standings at 3-2-4.
Playing as the No. 5 seed, Montana won its fifth Big Sky tournament championship in November with shutouts of No. 4 Northern Arizona, No. 1 Weber State and No. 3 Northern Colorado.
The Grizzlies lost at Washington State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, only their third loss to come after Sept. 23.
The team Montana defeated in the Big Sky championship match, Northern Colorado, topped the preseason poll, collecting six of 10 first-place votes.
The Bears will host this year’s conference tournament, Nov. 6-10 in Greeley.
Last year’s regular-season champion, Weber State, picked up three first-place votes and came in second in the poll.
Montana was trailed by Idaho, which finished second in the Big Sky standings last season, and Eastern Washington, which advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and ’17.
Sacramento State, picked seventh in the poll, received the other first-place vote.
In a league of recent coaching transitions, the stability of Tim Barrera’s program at Northern Colorado stands out and made the Bears a logical pick for the top spot for most coaches.
Barrera is entering his 21st season at UNC. The Bears have had a winning record in league every season since 2009 and won the tournament title in 2015.
Three of the Big Sky’s 10 programs are under first-year coaches, seven are led by coaches who have been at their schools for two seasons or fewer.
Barrera, Randy Dedini, in his 13th year at Sacramento State, and Chad Bodnar, in his sixth season at Eastern Washington, are the outliers.
First-year coaches include Debs Brereton at Idaho State, Kylie Louw at Northern Arizona and Meagan Thunell at Weber State.
Brereton was hired away from Ohio University, Louw was elevated after working as an assistant at NAU.
Thunell, a longtime assistant at Weber State, takes over on an interim basis for Tim Crompton, who is serving as the school’s interim Director of Athletics.
Portland State’s Katie Burton and Southern Utah’s Fred Thompson are going into their third seasons at their schools, Citowicki and Idaho’s Jeremy Clevenger their second.
2019 Big Sky Conference preseason coaches’ poll
1. Northern Colorado (6 first-place votes) ... 76 points
2. Weber State (3) ... 67
3. Montana ... 58
4. Idaho ... 54
5. Eastern Washington ... 52
6. Northern Arizona ... 47
7. Sacramento State (1) ... 36
8. Portland State ... 33
9. Southern Utah ... 15
10. Idaho State ... 12