Griz on final Big Sky road trip
Oct. 10, 2013
The Montana soccer team will play its final Big Sky Conference road games this weekend when it faces North Dakota and Northern Colorado. The Grizzlies will face UND Friday at 2 p.m. (MT) in Grand Forks and the Bears on Sunday at noon in Greeley.
Montana will close out its league schedule with back-to-back home weekends to finish out October. The Grizzlies will host Eastern Washington on Friday, Oct. 18, and Northern Arizona and Southern Utah the following weekend.
Tracking the Grizzlies: Fans can follow Friday's match through (free) live audio and live stats and Sunday's match via live stats. Links to the services can be found on the soccer schedule page at GoGriz.com.
What's at stake for Montana: The Grizzlies, 3-6-4 overall, are 0-3-1 through four Big Sky Conference matches, which gives them one point in the standings and a ninth-place position. With five wins in its final five league matches, Montana would reach 16 points.
Last year Weber State made the four-team Big Sky tournament as the No. 4 seed with 16 points. Northern Colorado missed out with 15 points. Which means the margin for error for the Grizzlies, who have played in the tournament championship match the last two seasons, is almost none.
What's at stake for North Dakota: UND went 0-9-0 in its first season in the Big Sky last fall, getting outscored 29-3. That prompted a change in coaching, and North Dakota (1-11-1, 0-3-0 BSC) is now under the leadership of Matt Kellogg.
This season started a lot like last year ended for UND. The team opened 0-6-0 and got outscored 21-1, but a 4-2 victory over in-state rival North Dakota State on Sept. 11 sparked something.
North Dakota opened its Big Sky schedule on the road at Sacramento State and Portland State, the two teams that defeated Montana at South Campus Stadium last weekend, and came away with encouraging 1-0 losses. Last weekend UND lost at home to Northern Colorado 2-1.
"Their new coach has them believing in themselves and competing at a very high level, and competing every single day with everything you have is the biggest thing in the college game," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "If you can do that, then you give yourself a chance."
What's at stake for Northern Colorado: The Bears are sitting in a contending position with a 1-1-1 Big Sky record. All three of UNC's league matches have come on the road, and the Bears close with four of their final six Big Sky matches at home.
Northern Colorado (5-4-3, 1-1-1 BSC) opened league play with a 3-1 loss at Portland State, tied at Sacramento State 1-1 and won its only Big Sky match last week at North Dakota 2-1.
Coach Tim Barrera is in his 15th year at Northern Colorado. He has led the Bears to a record of 128-120-25.
"Tim always does a great job with his teams, and he's got another good team this year that is starting to play really well," Plakorus said. "He always plays a tough nonconference schedule that prepares his team well for conference.
"It's always tough to play them at their place, and the travel on this trip is difficult. That's another challenge for us that we'll have to deal with."
Friday in the Big Sky: Montana (0-3-1 BSC) at North Dakota (0-3-0); Eastern Washington (1-3-0) at Northern Colorado (1-1-1); Southern Utah (1-2-0) at Portland State (4-0-0); Northern Arizona (2-1-0) at Sacramento State (2-1-1)
Saturday in the Big Sky: Weber State (3-1-0) at Idaho State (2-1-1)
Sunday in the Big Sky: Montana at Northern Colorado; Eastern Washington at North Dakota; Northern Arizona at Portland State; Southern Utah at Sacramento State
Greeley, a place of warm memories: In 2011 Montana made the Big Sky Conference tournament, which was held in Greeley. The No. 4 Grizzlies upset the No. 1 Bears in a shootout in the semifinals, then defeated No. 3 Weber State in the championship in another shootout to make the program's first NCAA tournament since 2000.
"On Tuesday at the end of practice, some of the girls were talking about how much fun it was the last time we were in Greeley," Plakorus said.
"And it's definitely a place that we have really good memories of, but those are in the past, and we have to make sure that we're ready to play for this year and do our best to have a good effort and see if we can't come out with a good result."
What's ailing Montana: The Grizzlies have outshot their first four Big Sky Conference opponents by three shots, but Weber State, Idaho State, Sacramento State and Portland State have outscored Montana 7-1.
That's reflected in the Big Sky statistics. Montana leads the league in shots per game (14.9), but the Grizzlies rank seventh out of 10 teams in goals per game (1.0).
"We're still just battling ourselves, really," Plakorus said. "We're getting players back from injury, and they're giving it their all but they aren't 100 percent, so we're having to shuffle some other things around. That makes it hard to find a rhythm and get confidence going forward.
"The girls are trying. They're busting their tails to try to get back to what we're all about. It's going to be interesting to see the steps we take this week. Can we be better than we were last week and find some consistency in our attack?"
Starting keeper up in the air: Senior Kendra McMillen started the season's first 12 matches in goal and played every minute up through halftime of Friday's 3-0 loss to Sacramento State.
Freshman Kailey Norman played a scoreless second half against Sac State, then started and played all 90 minutes in Sunday's 1-0 loss to Portland State.
Who starts Friday against North Dakota is still to be determined.
"I think our team has a lot of confidence in all our keepers," Plakorus said. "Kendra has been doing well for us this year, and they've gotten to know Kailey. I think whoever we have in goal, the team will be ready to play, because they believe in both of them.
"We'll make the decision about who's going to be in there later this week, and they'll have a job to do and responsibilities to take care of. And I have no doubt they'll do that."
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