Griz open Big Sky schedule at home this weekend
Sept. 19, 2012
The Montana soccer team will open its nine-match Big Sky Conference schedule this week when it hosts Idaho State and Weber State at South Campus Stadium. The Grizzlies will host the Bengals Friday at 4 p.m. and the Wildcats Sunday at 1 p.m.
Seven reasons to change your plans and get to South Campus Stadium this weekend:
1. Of the 10 Big Sky Conference soccer teams, only two came out of their nonconference schedule with records of .500 or better: Idaho State (5-3-0) and Montana (4-4-1).
2. Idaho State is the highest-scoring team in the Big Sky Conference (2.0/g), with 16 goals through eight matches. Montana is the saltiest defensive team, sporting a league-low 1.17 goals against average and Big Sky-best four shutouts, with three in its last five matches.
"Idaho State is definitely a team that is playing with a lot of confidence," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "(Coach Allison Gibson) has them really energized and playing well, so it's going to be a big challenge for us to meet that energy and see what we can do to put them back on their heels, if possible."
3. In senior forward Rachel Strawn (7 goals, 1 assist) and senior midfielder Anna Pingree (4 goals, 2 assists), Idaho State has the Big Sky Conference's two leading scorers through five weekends of the season.
Montana counters with senior defender Lauren Costa, a first-team All-Big Sky Conference selection as a junior and one of 30 finalists nationwide this season for the Senior CLASS Award, plus senior keeper Kristen Hoon, whose four shutouts lead the league.
4. The last time Montana and Weber State played? Last Nov. 6, Greeley, Colo., Big Sky Conference tournament championship match. Lauren Costa's penalty kick gave the Grizzlies a 4-3 shootout victory, sending Montana to its first NCAA tournament since 2000 and abruptly ending the Wildcats' season.
5. Weber State and Montana are the two winningest programs in Big Sky Conference women's soccer history. The Wildcats have 56 regular-season league wins entering the season, the Grizzlies have 52.
6. Montana, Idaho State and Weber State have won 11 of the 15 Big Sky Conference tournament titles since the Grizzlies won the first tournament back in 1997. Call it the I-15 traveling trophy. Current residence: Missoula, Mont.
7. Friday is the start of Big Sky Conference play. Five weekends, nine league matches for every team, the top four teams in the final regular-season standings advancing to the postseason tournament, which will be hosted by the regular-season champion the first weekend of November.
"Whenever you move into conference play there is a different feel to it," Plakorus said. "There is more at stake, so the intensity goes up, which makes for an exciting time.
"The team worked hard throughout the year to get into the season and then into conference play, and now it's here. This is what we've been working for, so the team is ready to get after it."
At a glance: Montana enters Big Sky Conference play with a record of 4-4-1. The Grizzlies are 3-1-1 in their last five matches, with three shutouts. In its only match last weekend, Montana played to a draw against New Mexico State on Friday at South Campus Stadium despite outshooting the Aggies 29-5. ... While Montana is trending in a good way, Idaho State enters Friday's match on a 1-3-0 stretch. After opening 4-0-0 with three shutouts, the ISU defense has allowed 11 goals the last four matches. ... Weber State is 2-7-0. The Wildcats have struggled to score this season, finding the net just eight times in nine matches. WSU has been shut out five times and scored half of its season goals in a single win, 4-1 over New Mexico State.
Big Sky play opens: All 10 league teams will be in action Friday as the teams begin their five-week quest toward being one of the teams playing in November. This week's schedule:
Friday: ISU at UM, WSU at EWU, PSU at UNC, SAC at UND, SUU at NAU
As mentioned, Idaho State and Montana have combined for nine wins. Seven other league teams enter league play with two or three wins to their credit. Southern Utah (1-4-1), which has only played six times, is the one team with fewer than two wins.
"The conference is very good, very balanced, from top to bottom," Plakorus said. "Nobody is running away with anything.
"It's going to be interesting to see how everything plays out, because there are a lot of unknowns. It should be pretty exciting."
The non-Montana match that should have your attention: Friday, Portland State at Northern Colorado. The Vikings were the coaches' preseason favorite to win the league, with the Bears finishing second in the poll. The teams tied for first in the 2011 regular-season standings at 4-1-2, but the Bears earned tournament hosting rights because of their 1-0 win at PSU.
Want to win the regular-season title and host the tournament? Take care of business at home: Northern Colorado and Portland State, which tied atop the standings last season, combined to lose just twice in league at home last season, and one of those was when they met head to head.
In 2010 league champion Northern Arizona went 4-0 at home, in 2009 Portland State went 3-0.
"It's a big weekend for us," Plakorus said. "It's important to perform well when you get those matches at home. It's a long season, so we're not going to put too much into (the result from) any one game, but it would be good to get as many points as possible out of these two games this weekend."
Common opponents: Idaho State defeated New Mexico State, 2-0, and lost in overtime at Boise State, 3-2. Montana won at Boise State, 1-0, and played to a double-overtime, 0-0 draw with NMSU last Friday.
One of Weber State's two wins was against New Mexico State, 4-1, and the Wildcats lost to Wyoming, 1-0. Montana opened its season with a 2-0 victory over the Cowgirls.
Series histories: Montana holds a 9-6-1 edge in its meetings against Idaho State. Most of that success has come at South Campus Stadium, where the Grizzlies have gone 7-1-0 against the Bengals, with just three goals allowed in those eight meetings.
Montana won last year's matchup at Pocatello, 2-1. Ashley Jones put ISU ahead in the third minute, but the Grizzlies, who had a 19-7 shot advantage, kept the Bengals off the board the rest of the way. Ashley Tombelaine scored twice in the second half, including a penalty kick in the 81st minute that was the game-winner.
Befitting the league's two most successful soccer programs, Montana and Weber State have played to an even record of 10-10-2 since their first meeting in 1996. The Grizzlies hold a 7-3-1 advantage in Missoula, but the Wildcats are 2-1-1 in their last four trips to South Campus Stadium.
Weber State won the regular-season meeting at Ogden, Utah, last October, 1-0, when Tianna Woodhead fittingly headed in the game-winner in the 82nd minute.
Montana notes: Freshman Mackenzie Akins, who has started the last four matches, took four shots against New Mexico State, putting three on goal. Both were season highs. ... Senior Erin Craig's eight shots against the Aggies were a career high. ... Senior keeper Kristen Hoon's seventh career shutout, which came Friday in Montana's 0-0 draw with NMSU, was likely her easiest. She saw five shots for the match, only one over the final 70 minutes, and did not face any that were on goal. ... Playing all 110 minutes against the Aggies in front of Hoon at central defender were senior Lauren Costa and junior Alyssa Nystrom. ... Sophomore Allie Simon took a career-high four shots against New Mexico State. Her two shots on goal matched a career high. ... Montana has taken 36 first-half shots this season, 90 after halftime.
Upcoming: Montana will play its first league road matches next weekend when Montana plays at Portland State and Sacramento State. The Grizzlies will face the Vikings at 2 p.m. (MT) on Friday, Sept. 28, and the Hornets at 2 p.m. (MT) on Sunday, Sept. 30.
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