Griz on the road once again
The Montana soccer team will be on the road for the fourth straight weekend when the Grizzlies travel later this week to Las Vegas for the UNLV Nike Invitational. Montana will play Indiana State Friday at 5:30 p.m. (MT) and the host Running Rebels Sunday at 2 p.m. (MT).
Sacramento State is the tournament's fourth team. The Hornets will play UNLV Friday at 8 p.m. (MT) and Indiana State Sunday at 11:30 a.m. (MT). All tournament matches will be played at UNLV's Johann Field.
Live coverage: All four matches at the tournament can be tracked via live stats. Links to the live stats can be found on the soccer schedule page at UNLVRebels.com.
Indiana State (3-2-0) will also enter the tournament on a two-match winning streak. The Sycamores beat Eastern Illinois, 1-0, and Murray State, 2-1, at home last weekend.
UNLV (3-2-1) makes it three tournament teams that will open play Friday on two-match winning streaks. Playing at its own Rebel Classic last weekend, UNLV beat both Oklahoma, 2-1, and Florida Atlantic, 2-1, in double overtime.
History: Montana and Indiana State will be meeting for the first time Friday. ... The Grizzlies and Running Rebels have met on three previous occasions, with Montana holding a 2-1 series advantage. Montana won at UNLV, 2-1 in overtime, in 2002, and won again, 2-0, in the second meeting at Missoula a year later. The teams played again at Las Vegas in 2004, with UNLV claiming a 3-0 victory.
Another weekend, another challenge: Four weekends to open the season, four straight weekends on the road. The opponents have been challenging enough, but Montana has also gone from elevation (Wyoming/Air Force), to heat (Fort Worth) to heated rivals (Boise State/Idaho).
This weekend it will be back into the heat for the Grizzlies. Montana will be welcomed to a high of 100 in Las Vegas when it arrives Thursday. Highs on Friday and Sunday are forecasted to be 99 and 93, with a sweltering 102 on Saturday.
"When we were putting our schedule together for this year, we wanted to make sure that we challenged ourselves, both in the opponents we played and the environments we were playing in," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "This weekend will be no different.
"But that's what you want. You want your team to be challenged so you can see what they can handle and how good they can be in those adverse conditions."
It's good to be a Griz: Montana opened its season with a 2-0 shutout victory at Wyoming on Aug. 17. Back-to-back 1-0 losses to Air Force and TCU followed, then came a 4-0 defeat at the hands (and feet) of Texas Tech in a match that was much closer than the final score indicates.
Montana broke its scoreless drought last Friday against Boise State and later its winless streak, then added Sunday's overtime victory.
Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week Erin Craig, a senior forward, scored the match's lone goal Friday, and she added another Sunday. Sandwiched around that goal were senior midfielder Lauren McCreath's first career goal and freshman forward/midfielder Mackenzie Akins' first collegiate goal, the game-winner against the Vandals in the 107th minute.
Montana outshot Boise State and Idaho, 45-28, and put 20 of those shots on goal compared to its opponents' seven.
"Any time you're able to go on the road and get a couple of results, it's going to give you confidence," Plakorus said. "I'm very pleased with the way we're progressing.
"We're getting more comfortable with each other and being more consistent, which is always good to see. And that's all we try to do every week: get better than we were the week before."
Griz finding second-half spark: Montana has scored five of its six goals this season in the second half, and the Grizzlies have more than doubled their shot output from the first half (26) to the second half (54). How to explain this?
"I think part of it is our players adjusting as the game goes on," Plakorus said. "And I think when it gets later in the game our style of play and fitness level can start to wear on our opponents. I think that has a lot to do with it.
"And soccer can be a weird game. There isn't always rhyme or reason to why things happen the way they do. We're created opportunities in the first half of games that just haven't gone in."
Home ... finally: Montana has been practicing at South Campus Stadium since early August, but the only match played thus far this season on the Grizzlies' home pitch was an exhibition match against Carroll on Aug. 11.
That all changes next week when Montana hosts New Mexico State next Friday at 4 p.m. And it will be an embarrassment of riches when the Grizzlies remain at home and host Idaho State and Weber State to open Big Sky Conference play the following weekend.
After a weekend away, Montana will host Northern Colorado and North Dakota Oct. 5 and 7. That will be your final chance to watch the Grizzlies in action at home, unless the team hosts the Big Sky Conference tournament in early November.
Extra time notes: When Montana went on the road last week and beat two opponents on the same weekend, it was the second time Montana has done that under second-year coach Mark Plakorus. Montana had not done it before last season since 1999. ... Montana has allowed eight goals through six matches this season. Last year the Grizzlies had allowed 14 at this point.
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