Key road trip opens Big Sky Conference play
Sept. 25, 2013
The Montana soccer team will open its Big Sky Conference schedule this week with the league's toughest road trip: at Weber State and Idaho State. The Grizzlies will face the Wildcats Thursday at 3 p.m. in Ogden, Utah, and the Bengals Saturday at 1 p.m. in Pocatello, Idaho.
In a nutshell: At 4-2-2 Weber State has the Big Sky Conference's best nonconference record and holds the league's highest RPI at 84. Idaho State is the defending Big Sky Conference tournament champion.
A fantastic week (2-0-0) for Montana would put the Grizzlies, who play five of their final seven league matches at home, where they haven't lost in nearly two years, in the driver's seat. A good week (1-0-1) would still be great. An okay week (0-0-2) could be overcome. A disappointing week (0-1-1) would mean an uphill battle, and a rough week (0-2-0) would put Montana in a difficult spot going forward.
With Sacramento State and Portland State, the fourth of the Big 4, traveling to Missoula next weekend, it puts a premium on a fast start for the Grizzlies over the next week and a half.
"If we can have a successful weekend, it really sets us up," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "But most of all I just want us to play well. We haven't played a full game yet. We want to keep getting better and keep progressing. Hopefully we'll find our stride this weekend.
"The two teams we play this week are very good, and it's always a challenge to play them on the road. Our team needs to be ready to put its best foot forward. We need to be focused because they are two very different teams that provide very different challenges for us."
Live coverage: Thursday's match can be tracked via live stats. Saturday's match will feature both live stats and live video. Links to all options can be found on the soccer schedule page at GoGriz.com.
At a glance: Montana, which has an RPI of 229, is 3-3-3 and moved back to .500 with a 2-0 victory over Nevada on Friday in the Grizzlies' only match last week. The Grizzlies are 3-1-1 in their last five. Their loss (at Creighton) and tie (at Nebraska-Omaha) came when Montana gave up game-tying goals in the final minutes of regulation.
Weber State started the season without a loss through its first four matches. One of WSU's early wins was a 2-1 overtime victory at Utah Valley, a team Montana beat 3-1 in Missoula. The Wildcats' two losses have come against Washington State, 1-0 at Boise, Idaho, and 4-0 at Utah.
Idaho State is 3-5-0. The Bengals opened with home wins over Boise State, 2-1, and Idaho, 2-0, then lost five straight, including a 4-2 home loss to Utah Valley. ISU won its last outing, picking up a 1-0 win at Wyoming with a goal off a set piece in the third minute of the second overtime.
More on Montana: Despite being without eight injured players, four of whom would be starters, the Grizzlies are 3-1-1 in their last five matches and have not been shut out since a 2-0 loss at Cal State Fullerton on Sept. 1. ... Montana has taken a Big Sky-leading 132 shots this season, 28 more than any other team. ... The Griz rank third in goals scored with 12. ... Senior India Watne leads the Big Sky in shots (3.33/g), sophomore Mackenzie Akins ranks second (3.00/g). ... Akins leads the Big Sky in assists with four. ... Senior Kendra McMillen's goals-against-average of 1.13 ranks second in the Big Sky, as does her three shutouts. ... Goals by half this season for Montana: two in the first half, 10 in the second half. ... Watne has three goals in Montana's last four games.
More on Weber State: The Wildcats made the Big Sky Conference tournament last season and returned 10 starters, yet WSU was picked fourth in this year's preseason poll. ... Two names to get familiar with: sophomore midfielder Chansi Crompton, daughter of head coach Tim Crompton, was the Big Sky's Newcomer of the Year last fall and a first-team All-Big Sky selection, as was Brecken Holbrook, a sophomore defender. ... Weber State has allowed just nine goals this season in eight matches, with four allowed against Utah. The Wildcats' goals-against-average of 1.05 ranks second in the Big Sky. ... WSU's 19 corner kicks this season (Montana has 34) are tied for last in the Big Sky.
More on Idaho State: Idaho State was picked atop the Big Sky preseason coaches' poll, along with Portland State. ... The Bengals have already allowed 20 goals this season. They allowed 25 all of last season. ... ISU gave up 19 goals during its five-match losing streak. ... Allyson Stainbrook, with four, and Amanda Ellsworth, with three, have accounted for seven of the team's 11 goals this fall. ... Ellsworth was the Big Sky co-Offensive MVP last season with Montana's Erin Craig. ... ISU has just two assists on its 11 goals this season. ... The Bengals rank last in the Big Sky in shots (8.25/g) and corner kicks (19).
The note that won't be commented on further lest it result in (another) reprimand by the Big Sky Conference: Idaho State has 16 yellow cards this season (in only eight matches!), twice as many as any other team in the league. Montana has one.
Big Sky flexing its muscle: At the start of the Big Sky Conference schedule, five of the league's 10 teams have nonconference records of .500 or better, which is probably a record. Weber State is 4-2-2, Northern Arizona is 4-2-3, Northern Colorado is 4-3-2, Sacramento State is 4-4-1 and Montana is 3-3-3.
Missing from that group? Portland State (3-4-1) and Idaho State (3-5-0), the two teams picked atop the preseason coaches' poll, which indicates the depth of the conference this year.
"It doesn't surprise me that we have so many teams with winning records as we head into conference play," Plakorus said.
"Our conference has always been a good conference. Even the teams that don't have winning records have played good opponents, and they've done well against them."
Around the Big Sky Conference:
Montana vs. Weber State: The Big Sky's blue-blood programs have, fittingly, near a .500 record against one another, with the Grizzlies owning an 11-10-2 advantage. Montana is 3-6 in matches at Ogden and hasn't won there since 2006.
In the teams' regular-season meeting last fall in Missoula, Lauren Costa scored on a header in the 17th minute, and it held up as the game-winner in the Grizzlies' 1-0 victory.
Montana vs. Idaho State: The Grizzlies hold a 9-6-3 advantage against the Bengals and are unbeaten (2-0-2) against ISU in the team's last four meetings. Montana is 2-3-2 against Idaho State at Pocatello.
In the teams' regular-season meeting last year at Missoula, Montana limited Idaho State to a single shot on goal in a 1-1 draw. In the teams' second meeting, in the Big Sky tournament championship match at Pocatello, the Grizzlies and Bengals played to a 0-0 tie and ISU won the shootout 4-3 to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Upcoming: Montana will host Sacramento State and Portland State on Oct. 4 and 6 at South Campus Stadium.
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