Griz unable to hold lead against Bengals

Gabby Crowell took 46 swings Saturday

Gabby Crowell took 46 swings Saturday

Sept. 29, 2012

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The Montana volleyball team entered its now-completed four-match homestand seeking a breakthrough result to provide a spark for the rest of its Big Sky Conference schedule. Instead the Grizzlies finished with a 1-3 record, and all three losses came in five-set decisions.

It happened again Saturday. Montana built a 2-0 lead over Idaho State, but the Bengals rallied and won for the 10th time in 11 matches, 23-25, 22-25, 25-18, 25-21, 15-12.

The win kept Idaho State (11-4, 5-1 BSC) among the Big Sky leaders. On the other side of the net, the loss put Montana (3-12, 1-5 BSC), even just three of 10 weekends into league play, among a handful of teams wondering how they are going to be able to challenge to make the league's six-team postseason tournament.

Any five-set loss is enervating, but Saturday's loss was particularly tough, because Montana outplayed the Big Sky's hottest team through the first two sets.

"The only word I put on the board tonight for this match was `compete,' " said UM coach Jerry Wagner. "Let's measure ourselves against these guys. Let's go after them and find out if we have what it takes.

"I thought we measured up pretty well, so to come away with a loss leaves a real empty feeling."

Facing a team that entered the match with a .259 hitting percentage on the season, Montana won the first two sets when it limited Idaho State to a .134 attack percentage.

Sophomore Kelsey Schile got the Grizzlies going early. She totaled nine kills in sets one and two on .316 hitting to lead Montana's .250 hitting effort.

Idaho State fought its way back into the match by reducing its attack errors and upping the pressure of its serving. The Bengals had just five attack errors in set three -- down from 16 in sets one and two -- and ripped five service aces. Back-to-back aces helped ISU break free from a 13-13 deadlock and close within 2-1.

Junior Megan Murphey served Montana to a 5-0 lead in the fourth set, but the lead would not last long. The Bengals tied it at 8-8 and used a 5-0 run midway through to build a cushion it would keep to force a fifth set.

Neither team held more than a one-point lead in the deciding set until ISU's Tressa Lyman, who had a match-high 20 kills on .204 hitting, put a signature on her night's work.

After Montana junior middle blocker Brooke Bray had a solo block of Jaclyn Hone-Hawkins at the center of the net that gave the Grizzlies a 9-8 lead, Lyman played a major role in the next four points that proved to be the decisive ones in a match that had 44 ties and 24 lead changes.

Consecutive kills by Lyman made it 10-9 and forced a Montana timeout. Since the strategy was working, the Bengals went right back to Lyman, and she had her final kill of the night to make it 11-9. She and Hone-Hawkins then blocked Schile to make it 12-9 and gain the winning separation ISU needed.

Montana would not get closer than two points again.

The Grizzlies hit a better percentage than the Bengals (.201-.188) and had an edge in blocks (10-8), but Idaho State had the superior serving game, and it proved to be the difference. For the second straight night.

Idaho State had seven service aces and an acceptable seven service errors. Montana had four service aces and a dozen service errors, a ratio no coach would find acceptable.

In Friday night's five-set loss to Weber State, the Wildcats had nine service aces to the Grizzlies' three.

"The difference in both of these matches this weekend was they were able to serve better than us, and that's how you can turn games around," Wagner said.

The loss overshadowed a breakout match for Schile, who had a season-high 17 kills on .250 hitting. She also added 9 digs, 6 blocks and 6 assists.

Bray and junior Kayla Reno both had 11 kills, with Reno hitting .270, the third time in four matches she has hit .250 or better, and Bray .242. Bray also had a match-high seven blocks.

Freshman outside hitter Gabby Crowell not only got the most attempts she's seen this season, she was set 46 times, six more than any of her teammates. She finished with 13 kills.

Murphey dug a season-high 19 balls and matched her career best with a pair of service aces, and junior setter Kortney James had her second double-double in two nights with 43 assists and 15 digs.

With a chance to use home matches to get back into the Big Sky race now past, Montana will need to get to work on the road. The Grizzlies will play three of its next four away from home, where they are 1-7 this year.

Montana will face a challenging road trip next week when it plays at Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies will face the Thunderbirds (7-9, 3-2 BSC) Thursday at 7 p.m. in Cedar City, Utah, and the Lumberjacks (12-3, 4-2 BSC) Saturday at 8:30 p.m. (MT) in Flagstaff, Ariz.



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