Griz earn first Big Sky win with 3-0 sweep

Samantha Maas served eight straight points in set two

Samantha Maas served eight straight points in set two

Sept. 22, 2012

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The Montana volleyball team collected its first Big Sky Conference victory of the season with a 3-0 sweep of Eastern Washington Saturday night at the West Auxiliary Gym, 25-20, 25-16, 25-17. The win also snapped the Grizzlies' four-match losing streak.

Eastern Washington, which has been beset with injuries and an early-season coaching change, fell to 0-15 overall, 0-4 in league.

Strictly based on records Montana (3-10, 1-3 BSC) would have been favored by most entering the match, but the Grizzlies had two obstacles to overcome. They were coming off a draining five-set loss to Portland State Friday night, and the Eagles played a strong match in their five-set loss at Montana State Thursday night and were likely looking at their opponent Saturday as their best opportunity for a breakthrough victory.

Neither potential stumbling block played a role. The Grizzlies hit .275, their best hitting percentage of the season, and limited the Eagles to .059 while mostly controlling play at the net.

"There was no looking past this team," coach Jerry Wagner said. "Eastern is getting people (healthy) and they just went five with a good Montana State team.

"They came out and wanted to do everything they normally do here, and we didn't want anything to do with it. The way we bounced back after last night, I couldn't have asked for anything more."

Montana's individual numbers were solid, but nothing like the eye-popping numbers that get produced over the course of a five-set match that lasts two-plus hours. Instead it was the lack of numbers -- specifically errors on the Grizzlies' part -- that stood out.

Montana played its most flawless set of the season in the opener to establish the tone for the match. The Grizzlies had just four errors -- three attack errors and one service error -- and hit .359 in the first set.

But still Montana trailed 19-17. After a timeout, the Grizzlies scored five straight points, two on consecutive blocks by junior Brooke Bray and sophomore Kelsey Schile, and eight of nine to finish off the set and end Eastern's only real chance at pulling out a set victory.

The Eagles hit .231 in the opening set, then -.025 in sets two and three.

Montana cut down on its unforced errors Saturday while at the same time having its best offensive output of the season. Four players finished with between eight and 10 kills, and the team averaged a season-best 14 kills per set.

"What I liked about that was that I don't think anybody backed off (from their aggressiveness) either," Wagner said.

Schile and junior Kayla Reno both had 10 kills, Reno on .333 hitting, Schile on .269. Bray had nine kills on .381 hitting and added a match-high six blocks, and senior Paige Branstiter finished with eight kills.

Junior Kortney James totaled 32 assists, six digs and three blocks, junior Megan Murphey wrapped up a solid defensive weekend with 13 more digs, and sophomore Natalie Jones had five blocks.

Junior Samantha Maas had a skinny stat line with nine digs and a bunch of zeroes, typical of a defensive specialist, but she was the team's most effective server. With Eastern Washington hanging around in the second set, Maas served Montana from a 15-15 deadlock to a 22-15 lead.

Branstiter went down with an ankle injury late in the final set, and that allowed freshman Gabby Crowell to make her first appearance of the night. She ended up putting down a kill on the match's final point, a memorable way to celebrate her 18th birthday.

"The thing I mentioned before we got going tonight was perseverance," Wagner said. "There are always going to be a few setbacks and stumbles here and there, so we need to stick to the plan.

"That was the rallying cry at the start of the week, and we got eight sets of everything these kids had to offer the last two nights. I couldn't be prouder of the way we bounced back."

Montana will continue its four-match homestand next week when the Grizzlies host Weber State (6-9, 0-4 BSC) and Idaho State (10-3, 4-0 BSC) Friday and Saturday at the West Auxiliary Gym.



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