BOZEMAN — The last time Montana State played a volleyball match was in 2019 during the Big Sky Conference tournament. One year, one month, and 27 days later, the Bobcats are finally gearing up to step back out on the court and kick off their spring season.
“I think it’s like being in the desert for 400 days, and they’re thirsty and they’re ready to drink," said Montana State's head volleyball coach, Daniel Jones.
In a similar format to this year’s basketball season, the Bobcats will play two back-to-back matches against the same opponent each week for a total of 16 matches.
With no non-conference games on the schedule, Montana State is jumping right into conference play.
"It’s interesting because you get to go out and compete and test yourself against everyone in the Big Sky and there is an NCAA Championship on the line as well - an opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament," explained Jones. "So the fact that all those things are on the line and yet, on the flip side of that, it does not count for eligibility for any of our players is really fascinating.”
There will be one major change that the Big Sky is enforcing this season: the wearing of masks both on and off the court.
“I think the biggest adjustment is that they have us wearing masks," added Jones. "The Big Sky has mandated that we wear masks both in practice and during play, so it’s getting used to that and getting used to being effective with that on.”
The Bobcats have 11 returners this season, including five starters from last year’s squad.
“The practice gym that we have right now is the most competitive practice gym I’ve had in my five to six years here," said Jones. "It’s incredible. I’m sitting there like, this is really good volleyball, and nobody gets to see it.”
After finishing the 2019 season with a winning record for the first time since 2012, the Bobcats were tabbed to finish fourth in this year’s preseason Big Sky Conference coaches’ poll.
“I think last year was a huge turning point for us and getting a winning record and winning a quarterfinal and things like that at the conference tournament," added Jones. "I’m planning on this year being another turning point where we take another step forward. I think the next step is a championship.”
The Bobcats begin their quest for a Big Sky championship on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Northern Colorado.