Towson wins tournament, Branstiter all-tournament
Towson lost earlier in the day to host Montana, but the Tigers defeated Furman in four sets Saturday evening, then watched from the bleachers as Texas Tech knocked off the Grizzlies Saturday night, 3-1 in the tournament finale. The turn of events gave Towson the title at the 2012 Best Western Grant Creek Inn Invitational.
Towson (8-3) and Texas Tech (10-1) both went 2-1 at the tournament, but Towson defeated the Red Raiders 3-0 in the tournament's opening match Friday afternoon.
Furman (8-3), which beat Montana (2-7) in four sets Friday night, claimed third and the Grizzlies, who could have won the tournament with a victory Saturday night over the Red Raiders, finished fourth.
Montana senior Paige Branstiter, who averaged 3.23 kills on .314 hitting, was named to the all-tournament team.
The team was headlined by Towson junior middle blocker I'ishah Keliikoa, who was named MVP after averaging 2.33 kills on .436 hitting and totaling a dozen blocks.
Rounding out the all-tournament team were Towson's Alysha McCreary, Texas Tech's Emily Ehrle and Furman's Natalie Braun.
Despite going 1-2 and finishing in fourth place, Montana was able to take mostly positives from the tournament as the Grizzlies head into Big Sky Conference play.
Montana hit .225 in its three matches -- making it five out of six matches hitting better than .200 -- and outblocked its opponents. And the Grizzlies knocked off the eventual tournament champion Saturday afternoon, coming back from down two sets to none and a 23-18 in the third set.
"I couldn't be more pleased to get a victory over any of these teams, especially the tournament champion," UM coach Jerry Wagner said. "It's really gratifying.
"We got exactly what we needed out of this tournament. Our one win was a quality victory, and the kids know it. I think we all believe we're now ready to go out and battle in the Big Sky Conference."
Despite losing the second set by an ugly 25-11 score, Texas Tech played like a team that already has 10 wins to its credit. The Red Raiders hit .368 for the match, .400 if you discount the second set, when Montana hit a ridiculous .594 and could do no wrong.
Tech jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the third set and quickly restored order against a team that in the later stages showed a tank that was running on empty after Saturday afternoon's draining victory.
The Red Raiders got out to a 7-2 lead in the fourth set and ended up winning 25-15, 11-25, 25-19, 25-15.
"We overcame a lot in our earlier match, and I think it caught up with us tonight," Wagner said. "You never want to see it happen, but I can understand how it does."
Three players had 10 or more kills, and all three hit better than .300 doing it. Branstiter led the team with 12 kills on .304 hitting. Junior Brooke Bray and sophomore Kelsey Schile each had 10 kills, with Bray hitting .533 and Schile hitting .333. Bray also led the team with three blocks.
Part of the team's offensive success at the tournament can be attributed to junior setter Kortney James, who had 36 more assists against Tech and averaged 8.23 per set in the team's three matches.
Junior libero Megan Murphey added 10 digs and finished with a three-match and team-high total of 39 (3.00/s).
Junior Kayla Reno finished the tournament with two fewer kills than Branstiter. Reno averaged 3.08 kills per set on .193 hitting.
Bray had her third strong tournament in three outings this season. She hit .362 over the Grizzlies' three matches and led the team with 13 blocks (1.00/s).
Montana will open Big Sky Conference play with perhaps the league's toughest road trip. The Grizzlies will play at defending league champion and 2012 preseason favorite Northern Colorado (7-2) Thursday at Greeley, Colo., at 7 p.m. and at North Dakota (4-6) Saturday at 6 p.m. (MT).
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