Alyssa Nystrom is one of three fifth-year seniors on the 2013 team
Aug 21, 2013
The Montana soccer team will open its 2013 regular season this weekend when the Grizzlies host the four-team Kickoff Invitational at South Campus Stadium. Montana will be joined by TCU, Wyoming and Air Force at the tournament.
The tournament begins Friday afternoon when Wyoming and TCU square off at 3 p.m. Montana and Air Force will follow at 5:30 p.m.
On Sunday TCU and Air Force will play at 10:30 a.m., followed by Montana and Wyoming at 1 p.m.
"The tournament features three really good, high-quality teams," said third-year UM coach Mark Plakorus. "It's a schedule that will challenge us to start off at a good level.
"With all four games, people are going to see some very entertaining soccer being played at a high level. That's always a good thing to bring that type of outside competition to Missoula."
Live coverage: GoGriz.com will feature live stats and live video of all four matches. Video coverage, which is available through a monthly or yearly subscription package, is available through the site's All-Access page. The two Montana matches will feature Shaun Radley with the play-by-play coverage.
All 10 of Montana's regular-season home matches this season can be watched on GoGriz.com.
A year ago: Montana was the only team among the tournament field that finished last season with a record above .500 at 12-6-3, though both the Grizzlies and TCU made their conference tournament championship matches.
Montana went 6-2-1 in Big Sky Conference play to share the league's regular-season title with Idaho State and Portland State. At the Big Sky tournament at Pocatello, Idaho, No. 3 Montana knocked off No. 2 Portland State in the semifinals, 3-2.
No. 1 Idaho State and Montana played to a 0-0 scoreless draw in the title match, with the Bengals winning the championship with a 4-3 shootout victory.
TCU was sitting 6-9-3 after going 1-5-2 in Big 12 play, but the Horned Frogs got hot in the postseason. They upset West Virginia 2-0 in the quarterfinals and beat Texas in a shootout in the semifinals. TCU's dream run ended with a 4-1 loss to Baylor in the title match. The season ended with a record of 7-10-4.
Air Force's victory over Montana in the second match of 2012 was part of the Falcons' 5-2-3 start to the season. From there it went downhill. Air Force ended the season on a seven-match losing streak to finish the season 5-9-3. The Falcons did not score a goal in their last seven matches and scored just 12 for the season.
Wyoming had a similar end to its season. After losing its opener to Montana, the Cowgirls won six straight, including victories over Weber State, Eastern Washington and Northern Colorado. But after beating UNC, Wyoming won just once in its next 10 matches. The Cowgirls ended their season 8-8-2 after a 1-0 win over Air Force in their season finale.
Where they were picked: Montana has the loftiest preseason poll ranking of the four teams, at least as it relates to their respective conferences. The Grizzlies were picked to finish third in the Big Sky in 2013, coming in just a few points shy of preseason favorites Idaho State and Portland State.
Wyoming was picked seventh in the 11-team Mountain West poll, Air Force 10th. TCU was voted seventh in the nine-team Big 12.
The Plakorus connection: Montana coach Mark Plakorus has spent time on the coaching staffs at both Air Force and TCU. He worked from 1999-2001 as an assistant coach at the Academy and spent six seasons at TCU, from 2005-10. He was hired at Montana in January 2011.
Some holes to fill: Of the four teams competing this weekend, only Wyoming returns its leading scorer from a season ago. Sara Paul, who is now a junior, led the Cowgirls with 14 points, on two goals and 10 assists, in 2012. Paul's assists-per-game average of 0.56 ranked 10th nationally.
Erin Craig led Montana in scoring last fall, finishing with 19 points on 7 goals and 5 assists. The Grizzlies' top returning scorers are senior Mary Makris (3 goals, 4 assists), junior Paytyn Wheeler (5 goals) and sophomore Mackenzie Akins (3 goals, 4 assists). All three players finished the season with 10 points.
Air Force's top returning scorer is senior Megan Dozier, who finished with 8 points on 2 goals and 4 assists. TCU's top returning scorer is sophomore Makenzie Koch. She finished the 2012 season with 3 goals and 5 assists for 11 points.
Meet the coaches: Air Force's Larry Friend, who is in his fifth year, is the elder statesman among the four coaches. Plakorus is in his third season at Montana. Pete Cuadrado is in his second at Wyoming, as is Eric Bell at TCU.
A new trend: For the first time since 2008 Montana will be opening its season at home. In 2009 the Grizzlies played their first five matches on the road. In 2010 it was two, in 2011 it was four, and last season it was eight.
Not only does Montana open the season at home, the Grizzlies play 10 matches at South Campus Stadium, the most for the team since 2000, and not once do they venture on the road for back-to-back weekends.
"It's kind of relaxing to not have to finish preseason and immediately jump on the road to go somewhere," Plakorus said.
"But it's also something that we need to make sure we're not too casual about. We need to bring the same focus and intensity that we bring when we're on the road. We need to learn how to do that when we're at home on a consistent basis."
Home sweet home: Montana is unbeaten at South Campus Stadium in its last seven matches (4-0-3), with a 3-0-2 record at home last season. The Grizzlies' last home loss: 1-0 to Sacramento State on a soggy field on Oct. 7, 2011.
Team balance: After having just a single senior on his first team at Montana and only five a year ago, Plakorus has nine this year, with three fifth-year seniors in Ashley Tombelaine, Britta Hjalmarsson and Alyssa Nystrom.
Montana has 17 upperclassmen in all but also welcomed eight incoming freshmen when the team took the field for the first time just over two weeks ago.
"You have the whole spring to get used to not having the seniors who you lost the previous fall, so your team kind of begins to form at that time," Plakorus said.
"But then in the fall it's a whole new deal. You're trying to find a rhythm in your training while at the same time trying to incorporate new players in. So it can be a little chaotic and a little rushed, and you never feel like you're completely ready (for your first game).
"You always wish you had another week, but that's not how it is. But Air Force and Wyoming are in the same boat."
Upcoming: Montana will hit the road for the first time next week when the Grizzlies play at Loyola Marymount and Cal State Fullerton.
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