Mackenzie Akins was named second-team All-Big Sky by College Sports Madness
Oct. 31, 2012
The Montana soccer team, Big Sky Conference co-champion, will compete this weekend at the Big Sky tournament at Pocatello, Idaho. This is the second consecutive year the Grizzlies have advanced to the postseason.
Schedule: No. 3 Montana (11-6-2) will face No. 2 Portland State (9-7-2) in the opening semifinal match Friday at 11:30 a.m. at Idaho State's Davis Field. No. 1 Idaho State (11-5-1) will host No. 4 Weber State (7-10-1) in the second semifinal at 3 p.m.
The winners will meet Sunday at 1 p.m. in the tournament championship match. Sunday's winner will advance to the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Live coverage: Idaho State is providing fans two options to monitor the action: video and live stats. Links to both services can be found on the soccer schedule page at GoGriz.com.
How they got here: Montana, Portland State and Idaho State all tied for a share of the Big Sky Conference regular-season championship with 6-2-1 league records. PSU won or shared the regular-season title for the third time in four years, ISU won its first since 2006, and UM won its first since 2000.
Weber State finished fourth in the Big Sky Conference with a 5-3-1 league mark. The Wildcats finished one point ahead of fifth-place Northern Colorado, which went 4-2-3. WSU played to a 0-0 draw against UNC in both teams' regular-season finale to earn the final tournament spot.
Looking back: Reviewing the Big Sky Conference preseason coaches' poll, Idaho State is the biggest surprise in the tournament field. The Bengals were picked to finish seventh. Portland State was picked first, Montana third and Weber State fourth. All three of those teams picked up first-place votes as well.
Who's hottest? The top three seeds in the tournament all went 6-2-1 in league play, so they all finished the season in strong fashion. Montana's claim is that the Grizzlies have won six straight, all by shutout. ... Portland State can say it's gone 7-1-1 over its last nine, with a 2-0 shutout of Montana during that stretch. ... Idaho State has gone 6-1-0 over its last seven and is the Big Sky's highest scoring team by a wide margin. ... Weber State has gone 4-1-1 in its last six, including a 1-0 victory over Idaho State.
"I think it's anybody's tournament to go out and execute and come out on top," UM coach Mark Plakorus said. "No team would surprise me if they won it, because I don't think anybody is head and shoulders above anybody else.
"But that's the balance in this conference. Not only are the four of us who made the tournament capable of winning it, I think there are probably two or three teams not in the field who would also be capable of winning.
"I don't know that anyone has any real advantage, and that includes Idaho State playing at home. It's going to come down to who comes out with the most focus and who gets the ball to bounce their way in the end."
Tournament bona fides: Montana is playing in its 12th Big Sky Conference tournament, an event that is in its 16th edition since starting in 1997. The Grizzlies missed the tournament in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010.
Montana is 9-6-3 all-time at the tournament and won titles in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2011, with runner-up finishes in 1998, 2003 and 2004. The Grizzlies have twice met the Vikings in previous tournaments. Montana won 4-0 at Missoula at the first Big Sky tournament in 1997. PSU won the second meeting, 1-0 in 2002 at Pocatello.
Portland State is making its ninth appearance, but the Vikings are still seeking their first tournament title. PSU has only advanced to the championship match one time, in 2002, in its eight previous appearances.
Idaho State is making its seventh appearance and hosting for the third time. The Bengals won the title the previous two times they hosted the tournament, beating Sac State in a shootout in 2006 and Portland State 1-0 in overtime in 2002.
Like Montana, Weber State has also missed just four tournaments in its history, 2000, 2002, 2009 and 2010. The Wildcats claimed titles in 1998, 2004 and 2005 and also have four runner-up finishes and own the best tournament resume with an 11-5-2 all-time record.
Host not always a lock: In the previous 15 tournaments, the host team has claimed the championship just eight times. The lack of home-field edge has been especially apparent recently. The last four hosts -- WSU in 2008, PSU in 2009, NAU in 2010 and UNC in 2011 -- all ended their seasons short of hoisting the Big Sky trophy.
Last year: Montana took the No. 4 seed into the 2011 tournament at Greeley, Colo., and advanced to the NCAA tournament with a pair of shootout victories. The Grizzlies knocked off No. 1 Northern Colorado in the semifinals and No. 3 Weber State in the championship.
WSU had previously upset No. 2 Portland State in the semifinals, also in a shootout.
The first meeting: If Montana had a low point this season, it was the second weekend of league play when the Grizzlies went on the road and lost at Portland State and Sacramento State, both by 2-0 scores. PSU outshot the Grizzlies 19-8 in their first matchup and took nine corner kicks to UM's two.
The Vikings went up 1-0 in the 27th minute on a goal by Daniela Solis. Montana scored an own goal in the 50th minute when a Griz defender sent a clearing shot off the crossbar and into the Griz goal to make it 2-0. Portland State also put one off the post in the 85th minute that could have made it 3-0.
"I think we're at a different place as a team right now than we were at that point in the season," Plakorus said. "And that's what you always hope a month farther into the season. Of course I expect them to be a better team as well.
"I think it's going to be a very evenly played match, and I think it's going to be a pretty physical match. If we can stay composed and play our style of soccer, I like our chances."
Montana holding top RPI: Montana is currently ranked No. 157 in the latest NCAA Division I soccer rating percentage index (RPI), the highest ranking in the Big Sky. Northern Colorado is ranked 186th, Portland State 195th, Idaho State 200th, Eastern Washington 237th, Northern Arizona 251st, Weber State 252nd, Sacramento State 261st, Southern Utah 309th and North Dakota 315th (out of 323 Division I teams).
Montana's best win this season: a 1-0 victory at Boise State. The Broncos, who are 9-8-2, have an RPI of 121. Among the Grizzlies' nonconference losses, Texas Tech is ranked No. 25, UNLV No. 75 and TCU No. 83.
Griz claim weekly award: Senior goalkeeper Kristen Hoon was named the Big Sky Conference Defensive Player of the Week Tuesday for her role in Montana's 1-0 shutout victory at Utah State last Friday in the team's only match of the week.
Sophomore Paytyn Wheeler, who scored the game-winner against the Wolverines in the 44th minute, was named the College Sports Madness Big Sky Conference Player of the Week.
All-Big Sky teams announced: Montana had three players earn All-Big Sky Conference honors and six others earn honorable-mention status when the league announced its all-conference teams Tuesday.
Senior defender Lauren Costa was named Defensive MVP and earned first-team honors for the second straight year. Senior forward Erin Craig was named co-Offensive MVP and also earned first-team honors for the second consecutive year.
Senior midfielder Lauren McCreath, honorable mention a year ago, was voted second team this season.
Earning honorable-mention accolades were senior goalkeeper Kristen Hoon, senior defender Kate Wilkins, junior defender Maddey Frey, junior midfielder Mary Makris, sophomore midfielder Tyler Adair and freshman midfielder Mackenzie Akins.
College Sports Madness also weighed in on the Big Sky, using a formula that is a mystery to anyone but itself. They decreed that Costa was the Defensive Player of the Year, that Costa, Craig and Hoon were first-team All-Big Sky selections and that Akins was a second-team choice.
Shutout fun: Montana's 11 shutouts this season are one away from the single-season record of 12, shared by the 1996, 1997 and 2000 teams. ... The Grizzlies' six straight shutouts are one shy of the consecutive record of seven from the 1996 season. ... Montana has not allowed a goal in over 548 minutes. ... UM's keepers have had to make just 17 saves over that time, or one save every 32 minutes. ... Montana held North Dakota, Northern Arizona and Utah Valley each to one shot on goal. ... Senior goalkeeper Kristen Hoon had a season goals-against average of 1.19 after Montana's 2-0 loss at Sacramento State. Over the last six games, all shutouts, that average has dropped to 0.83. ... Hoon's nine shutouts this season match Natalie Hiller's single-season record from 2000. ... Hoon played most of the minutes in Montana's 4-0 victories over North Dakota and Eastern Washington before being pulled for junior backup Kendra McMillen, but the NCAA requires a complete-game, solo effort before a shutout is awarded. ... Montana had just two shutouts last season.
Three-dot notes: Montana's opponents averaged 1.91 goals per game last season on 16.1 shots per game. This year: 0.84 goals per game on 10.2 shots. ... The Grizzlies are riding a six match winning streak. The best in-season winning streaks in program history: 11 in 1997, nine in 2000 and eight in 1998. ... Senior Erin Craig ranks fourth in Montana history in shots (193), eighth in goals (19) and ninth in points (47). ... Craig has missed one game in her career, last season at Utah Valley. Her 76 games played are tied for ninth all-time. ... UM's win at Utah Valley Friday give senior goalkeeper Kristen Hoon a winning record (17-16-6) for her career. ... Senior Lauren Costa has started all 74 matches in which she's played in her career. That mark is tied for fifth all-time. Costa missed three matches her sophomore season. ... Craig's 69 shots this season are the fourth-most in program history. ... This is the eighth time in program history Montana has posted double-digit wins. The 1997 and 2000 teams both won 16 matches. ... The Grizzlies' 104 corner kicks this season are the third most in program history.
Dare we look ahead: The winner of Sunday's Big Sky championship match will advance to the NCAA tournament. The NCAA selection show will air Monday at 2:30 p.m. (MT) on NCAA.com. First-round matches will be played at 32 home sites the weekend of Nov. 9-11.
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