(Editor's note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA - The final result will show yet another 3-0 loss, this time coming to CSU Bakersfield during Montana's home opener on Friday night (26-24, 25-16, 25-18). And while the result remains frustrating, Allison Lawrence remains encouraged – and optimistic – that the Grizzlies are a little bit closer to becoming the team she expects.
With eight freshmen playing key roles, including four who started on Friday night, Montana continues to go through new scenarios on each night. The group's first match, first setback, first obstacle to overcome. On Friday, the Grizzlies had their first home match, and with it came a new spark of energy.
Montana jumped out to an early lead in a tight, back-and-forth first set, but Montana remained in control. The Grizzlies led for 17 points in the opening frame, they never trailed by more than two and they nearly closed out their first set win of the season.
Trailing 20-19, setter Casey Stites dropped a solo stuff to tie the set. One point later and Montana was back in front, as CSU Bakersfield was forced to call timeout. The momentum didn't swing, however, with the Grizzlies earning the next two points to go up 23-20.
Montana now was in unfamiliar territory, with the lead and trying to close out the set. The Roadrunners crept closer with consecutive points from the service line, followed by a kill to tie the set. Still, Montana remained in control when it scored the next point to earn its first set-point opportunity of the season. The Roadrunners, however, fended it off and scored the final three points to win, 26-24.
"We had a little bit of a passing breakdown, but I didn't feel like they were passive errors or us being afraid," Lawrence said. "I think the experience of getting a couple of set wins under our belt will help us remain poised and wanting to be in that spot, and knowing that we can finish."
In many ways, Montana played its best set of the season. After struggling with serve-receive through the first two weeks, Montana was strong in both areas in the opener, recording four service aces and siding out at a 60-percent rate. The Grizzlies also out-blocked the Roadrunners, 3-0.
"It felt like we had the momentum and it was our set," Lawrence said. "Our serving and passing was so solid that it got us right there. We served tough, we blocked really well. At the end, we had a little lull, and that's been the story of our inconsistency."
CSUB's late momentum in the first set carried over to the second, as the Roadrunners jumped out to a 9-1 lead. Montana got three consecutive kills to close within four, 14-10, but couldn't get closer, falling 25-16. Montana led by three early in the third before CSUB steadily pulled away to complete the sweep.
(on playing in front of Griz Nation)
"I thought being at home gave us an extra couple of inches on our jumps. We've been talking so much about our move to the arena and our first game with this new group and the momentum we feel from the community in Missoula. To get to do that tonight is a really good feeling, and I thought we started off the match really strong. It showed how much being at home relaxes us."
(on the defensive and all-around performance from Horning)
"Kelly started off on fire with her feet off the ball. She got some really good block touches and pounded a few balls, too. I was impressed with how hard she was working off the ball, which relieved some of our pins."
(on Godwin's career night)
"Elsa always takes care of details. She pushes really hard in practice and she's a really good teammate, no matter what her role has been. She's waited for her opportunities, and when she's had them in matches, she's found ways to get kills and be efficient."
The Farmers State Bank Invitational will conclude on Saturday with matches featuring CSU Bakersfield and Montana State (10 a.m.) and Montana and UTEP (noon). On Friday, CSU Bakersfield went 2-0, Montana State went 1-0 and UTEP went 0-2.