Griz enter final two weeks of Big Sky play
Oct. 10, 2012
The Montana soccer team will play its travel partner this week when it heads to Cheney, Wash., to face Eastern Washington Friday at 4:30 p.m. (MT) at the EWU Sports and Recreation Center Soccer Field. The match Friday is the Grizzlies' only game of the week.
Live coverage: Eastern Washington will have live stats of Friday's match. A link to the live stats is available through the soccer schedule page at GoEags.com.
Where they stand: Montana is 7-6-2 overall, 3-2-1 in the Big Sky Conference. The Grizzlies are tied for third in the league standings at 10 points with Northern Colorado (5-5-3, 3-1-1 BSC), which has played one fewer match. ... Eastern Washington (5-6-3, 2-2-2 BSC) is tied for sixth at eight points with Northern Arizona (4-6-4, 2-1-2 BSC).
What's at stake: Eight teams are still in the thick of the Big Sky Conference tournament race, and Montana and Eastern Washington are both among those teams. The top four teams at the end of the regular season will advance to the Big Sky tournament, which will be held the first weekend of November at the site of the regular-season champion.
Most recently: Montana snapped a two-match losing streak last weekend with a key home sweep of Northern Colorado and North Dakota that allowed the Grizzlies to move back into the heart of the Big Sky Conference standings.
Montana handed Northern Colorado its only Big Sky loss of the season on Friday, 1-0, scoring the only goal the Bears have allowed in five league matches. Sophomore Allie Simon's goal in the 77th minute was the game-winner.
The Grizzlies posted their most lopsided win since 2006 and completed the first unbeaten home schedule (3-0-2) in program history when they blanked North Dakota Sunday, 4-0. Montana got goals from freshman Mackenzie Akins, sophomore Paytyn Wheeler, Simon and junior Mary Makris.
Makris's goal, which made it 4-0 in the 84th minute, was the first of her career.
"We had a good weekend, and we played well," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "The biggest thing is we just played. We were very relaxed and we competed hard, and that allowed us to get into a rhythm."
Eastern Washington hosted the same two teams and came away with a 4-1 win over North Dakota Friday and a scoreless draw with Northern Colorado on Sunday.
The Eagles got a natural hat trick from sophomore forward Cassie Black in Friday's win to rally from a 1-0 deficit. In Sunday's tie, senior goalkeeper Jamie Walker faced 21 shots and nine corner kicks but made 11 saves for her first shutout of the season.
What to expect: A low-scoring game and one that ends with nothing more than a one-goal differential. And that would continue the trend in matches between the two teams.
In the dozen times the Grizzlies and Eagles have met since 2000, they've played to one tie and 10 one-goal matches. Eight of those 10 one-goal decisions have been 1-0 finals. The only "blowout" during that span was Eastern's 2-0 win at Missoula in 2007.
Montana won 1-0 last fall at home when Paytyn Wheeler scored the match's lone goal in the 86th minute. It was the third straight season the teams' match has been decided by a 1-0 score.
"Conference games are always going to be close, so the first thing you have to do is take care of yourself," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "We have to make sure we're competing at a high level and playing as hard as we can.
"We need to take our chances, and when we do we need to be dead-on with our finishing. I imagine both teams are going to get some good looks. It's the team that's able to be composed and deal with the situation that is going to have the advantage."
Series history: Montana leads the all-time series against Eastern Washington, 9-5-1. The Grizzlies are 5-3-0 in matches at Cheney, including a season-ending 1-0 win to wrap up the 2010 season in their last trip to EWU.
Surprising Eagles: Eastern Washington went 2-13-1 a year ago and won just a single league match, so it was no surprise to see EWU picked eighth in this year's preseason coaches' poll. But the Eagles were better in 2011 than their record indicates.
They lost three Big Sky games by 1-0 scores and peaked late. Among its final matches EWU had a surprising 3-0 win at Weber State and a 1-1 draw against Northern Colorado, which would go on to share the regular-season title and host the league tournament.
Seven starters and a total of 16 letterwinners returned this season for 13th-year coach George Hageage.
"There is such a fine line between winning and losing at the college level," Plakorus said. "Just because one year doesn't go the way you want it to doesn't mean the next year won't.
"Last year George's team was very good. They played well here, and they played well throughout their conference schedule. They just didn't always have the results to show it."
This year's Eastern Washington team was winless through its first five matches. The Eagles' season turned around with consecutive wins over Boise State, 3-1, Idaho, 2-0, and Hawaii, 2-1, in their last three matches leading into conference.
In Eastern's Big Sky matches prior to last weekend, the Eagles lost to Weber State, 1-0, beat Idaho State, 2-1, tied at Sac State, 1-1, and lost at Portland State, 4-0.
This is when it gets fun: Every team in the Big Sky Conference has either three or four league matches remaining. The dust will finally settle when Eastern Washington plays at Southern Utah in the final Big Sky match of the season on Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21. Just five points separate the top seven teams.
"Just like always, things are jumbled up," Plakorus said. "But it's about what I expected, because I don't think there is a huge separation from top to bottom.
"Like every year, you need to take care of things at home, and then the teams that are able to get results on the road are the ones who are going to make the top four."
Here is where things currently stand:
Portland State ... 4-1-1 BSC (13) ... 6-6-2 overall
And here are the final head-to-head Big Sky matchups:
Friday, Oct. 12
Sunday, Oct. 14
Thursday, Oct. 18
Friday, Oct. 19
Saturday, Oct. 20
Sunday, Oct. 21
Why it's good to be Portland State: The Vikings, who were picked first in the preseason coaches' poll, top the current standings and have a two-point cushion on their nearest pursuer. Even better news for PSU: The Vikings play their final three league matches at home, beginning this weekend with Idaho State and Weber State. Somebody please make sure Hillsboro Stadium is reserved for early November.
Montana notes: The Grizzlies' seven wins are the most since the 2006 team won 10 games. ... Five of Montana's six losses this season have come via shutout. ... Montana has scored three first-half goals this season, 12 after halftime. ... The Grizzlies had 17 offside calls whistled against them last weekend against Northern Colorado and North Dakota. Montana's 44 offside calls this season are the most in the Big Sky. "I don't mind, because I want us to attack teams," Plakorus explains. ... Montana's 83 corner kicks are 22 more than any other Big Sky team has created. ... The Grizzlies' seven shutouts lead the Big Sky. ... Senior Erin Craig has taken 50 shots this season, the most in the Big Sky. She has taken more than twice as many as any of her teammates. ... Sophomore Paytyn Wheeler has the team's best shot percentage of .333. She has scored three goals this season on just nine shots.
Upcoming: Montana will conclude its Big Sky schedule next week with matches at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies will face the Thunderbirds on Friday, Oct. 19, at Cedar City, Utah, and the Lumberjacks on Sunday, Oct. 21, at Flagstaff, Ariz.
Montana will end its regular season with a road match at Utah Valley on Friday, Oct. 26. Depending upon how things shake out over the next two weekends, that will either be the Grizzlies' final match of the season or a tune-up for the Big Sky tournament.
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