(Editor’s Note: Story by Griz Communications)
MISSOULA – Montana volleyball coach Allison Lawrence has seen improvement each week of the 2018 season, and that will again be the focus as the Grizzlies enter their final preseason tournament. Montana will travel back to the state of California to play UC Santa Barbara, host CSU Bakersfield and South Dakota.
“Top to bottom, this is a challenging tournament, and all four teams are very equal to each other in their strengths and weaknesses,” head coach Allison Lawrence said. “There’s a lot of motivation to lock into our consistency and see some results.”
Montana’s last trip to the Golden State didn’t go well. The Grizzlies came home 0-3, against teams Lawrence felt her team should have had more success against. The truth is, Montana didn’t play good volleyball that opening weekend, but perhaps the teams were better than expected, as well. Cal State Fullerton began the year 6-1, UC Riverside was 4-1 through two weeks and Akron holds a 6-3 record. Entering this weekend, the three opponents are a combined 16-12.
But more importantly to Lawrence is that her Grizzlies team is not the same team she saw that last week of August.
“I just feel like we’re a different team in terms of our belief in ourselves,” Lawrence said. “There’s a general confidence in what we’re doing.”
Since the opening weekend, Montana is 2-4 – not particularly impressive, until you look at who UM has played. Three of the losses are to Power-5 opponents ranked in the top 30 nationally (Utah, Iowa State and Arizona). The other was to a New Mexico State team that has won the past three WAC titles and currently owns a 16-match home winning streak. Montana pushed the Aggies to the brink, taking them to five sets, with the final score being decided by the minimum two points (15-13).
Over the past two weeks, Montana has also scored a signature home win over Gonzaga – also in five sets – and a road win at UTEP – a three-set sweep.
“Our win at UTEP really solidified this sense that we can be calm when the pressure is on, and whether we’re ahead or behind, that we can get it done in any circumstance.”
Statistics back up the improvement, as well. Three of Montana’s top hitting percentages have come in the past four matches. Conversely, the Grizzlies held UTEP to .150 hitting – the lowest by a UM opponent this season. Montana has out-blocked three of its past four opponents, and has trailed in digs just once over the past two weeks (and that was in a win).
Montana is gaining confidence with each match, and the Grizzlies hope to continue that trend this weekend in California. They’ll face a CSU Bakersfield team that is 3-6 on the year, but advanced to the NCAA tournament a year ago. UC Santa Barbara was just 8-20 last year, but is off to a 6-3 start behind Lindsey Ruddins, the No. 3 attacker in the country. The weekend will close against South Dakota, another 6-3 team that has a stout defense that ranks 13th nationally for digs.
“We enter the tournament calm,” Lawrence said. “It’s down to business. We know who we are. We’re ready to battle it out with other good teams, and hopefully build some momentum going into conference.”
Montana’s first three Big Sky matches will all be at home, hosting Sacramento State (Sept. 20), Portland State (Sept. 22) and Montana State (Sept. 25).
LOOKING BACK AT THE BORDERLAND INVITATIONAL
- Senior OH Mykaela Hammer was named to the all-tournament team for the second week in a row, averaging 2.73 kills, 2.55 digs and 1.09 blocks per set. Against New Mexico State, Hammer had 20 kills, 10 digs, six blocks and a service ace.
- Over the three matches, Montana out-hit its opponent twice, led in blocking twice and did not trail in digs. The Grizzlies hit a season-best .229 vs. New Mexico State. One day later, they held UTEP to .150 hitting, the lowest by a UM opponent this season.
- Montana used an 8-0 run in a Set-4 victory, setting up a deciding set. The two teams were tied at 13-13, before NMSU won the final two points. Montana was the first team in more than a year to take the Aggies to five sets on their home court.
- Junior OH Missy Huddleston recorded her third double-double of the season vs. NMSU (12 kills, 12 digs).
- In a three-set win at UTEP, the Grizzlies jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first set. They were led by senior Cassie Laramee, who recorded 13 kills on .357 hitting.
- UM overcame a six-point deficit in Set 3, its largest of the season in a set victory.
- The Grizzlies learned how to close out tight sets late. They led 23-22 in the first set before winning two of the final three points. The two teams were knotted at 23-23 in Set 2, before Montana won the next two points. Tied at 24-24 in the third set, the Grizzlies got back-to-back kills to seal the match.