Brooke Bray had six blocks and hit .484
Sept. 21, 2012
Same night, new year. Same situation, similar result. One year after Portland State rallied back from a fifth-set deficit to beat the Montana volleyball team at the West Auxiliary Gym, the Vikings did it again.
Trailing 6-2 early in the fifth set and 12-10 late, Portland State came back for a 21-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-20, 15-13 victory over the Grizzlies (2-10, 0-3 BSC) Friday night that kept Montana winless in Big Sky Conference play.
In 2011 Portland State faced a 13-7 deficit and stormed back to win 16-14. This year the deficit wasn't as large, but the outcome was the same.
After falling behind in the fifth set, PSU went to the Big Sky's top hitter, junior Jaklyn Wheeler, a transfer from Oregon, and the first-year Viking kept Portland State (7-7, 3-0 BSC) as one of the two remaining unbeatens in the league.
Wheeler finished with a match-high 26 kills and came through when Montana and the season-high crowd of 446 knew she was going to be set. Her back-to-back kills broke a 13-13 deadlock in the fifth set and gave Portland State its 17th straight win over Montana.
The loss was a sour end to an otherwise solid performance by the Grizzlies. Montana out-hit Portland State and was mostly the Vikings' equal for the duration of the match.
"I'm extremely proud of how hard we played all night. This was our most consistent match of the season, team-wide from start to finish," UM coach Jerry Wagner said.
"We hung in there and gave it everything we had. Every set and every point was played out on both sides at a fever pitch, and I was proud that our kids were a part of it.
"After watching this team tonight, I've got the utmost confidence we can be that team more often, and be one or two points better."
Montana hit .263 and never trailed in the opening set. Portland State rallied from a 13-10 deficit to take set two and appeared to be taking control of the match in set three.
The Vikings built an 18-12 lead and still led 22-18 following an Aubrey Mitchell kill. That's when Montana did something it has mostly been watching other teams do this season: It closed.
A kill by sophomore Kelsey Schile started a 7-0 set-deciding run that put Montana up 2-1. Schile had two kills down the stretch, as did Reno, and Schile added a solo block.
"We turned the momentum in set three by putting together a great run," Wagner said. "We had a couple of great digs to extend points and some good conversions.
"We're pretty good at catching fire when somebody gets going, and it seemed like it was a different person all night. We had some nice contributions all the way around."
The momentum didn't last. After the teams traded points to open the fourth set, Portland State got back into the match by hitting .205, its best performance of the night. Once the PSU lead reached 18-12, all eyes turned to the fifth set.
Bray had two of her six blocks early in the fifth, and back-to-back attack errors by Portland State gave Montana an early 6-2 lead and forced PSU coach Michael Seemann to use a timeout. His likely message: We have the top hitter in the gym. Let's use her.
And the Vikings did. Wheeler had kills on three of the next six points to help Portland State forge an 8-8 tie.
Montana answered with kills by senior Paige Branstiter and Bray to take a 10-8 lead, and Reno's 22nd kill of the match made it 12-10.
From that point, the only thing that slowed Portland State's march to victory was the Vikings themselves. After going up 13-12, PSU sailed a serve past the end line that made it 13-13. It was Montana's final point of the match.
Montana will host winless Eastern Washington (0-14, 0-3 BSC) Saturday at 7 p.m. The Eagles lost at Montana State in five sets Thursday night.
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