Griz pick up much-needed victory

Natalie Jones blocked a career-high nine balls

Natalie Jones blocked a career-high nine balls

Oct. 12, 2012

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Finally, perhaps a spark. Up 2-1 but facing a 20-14 deficit in the fourth set, the Montana volleyball team rallied to down Sacramento State Friday night at the West Auxiliary Gym, 25-20, 25-16, 20-25, 25-22. The win snapped the Grizzlies' four-match losing streak.

With three five-set home losses to Big Sky opponents in recent weeks and with a fifth set looming as a distinct possibility against the Hornets, Montana stood its ground and closed the decisive set on an 11-2 run.

"The team just said, Not tonight, not now, not this time," UM coach Jerry Wagner said. "It was a collective breakthrough effort."

Montana quickly dispatched Sac State in the opening two sets, holding the Hornets to .045 hitting. But Sacramento State, which like Montana sits outside the Big Sky's top six and needs league wins if it wants to challenge for a postseason spot in November, wasn't going to go away meekly.

The Hornets built an early 8-2 lead in the third set and came back from down a point late. Their first set win of the night carried over to the fourth, and a suddenly confident Sac State team rolled out to a 7-0 lead.

The lead reached 20-14, and the uncomfortable possibility of another fifth-set loss became tough to discount, but this time Montana seized the victory before the match reached that point.

Sophomore Natalie Jones had three of her career-high nine blocks during the Grizzlies' uprising, junior Kayla Reno had two of her match-high 17 kills, and sophomore Kelsey Schile ended the match with a kill from the right side.

"I'm not afraid of going to another fifth set with this team, but with the way the ebb and flow of the match was going, I didn't like the way things were going," Wagner said.

"After playing extremely well and focused for two sets and then coming out a little flat against a good team (in the third set) and letting them seize quite a bit of momentum, in this case I would have preferred not to go five."

Montana got solid offensive contributions from all five of its hitters, junior setter Kortney James directed the team to a .224 hitting night, and junior defensive specialists Megan Murphey and Samantha Maas were fantastic with 36 combined digs, 24 for Murphey, 12 for Maas.

"What I was most satisfied with tonight was that we got strong contributions from everyone, not only at the end of the fourth set but through the course of the entire match," Wagner said.

Coming off a four-kill night against Northern Arizona last Saturday at Northern Arizona when she hit -.083, Reno had 17 kills on .350 hitting and added 15 digs and three blocks.

And junior Brooke Bray was just as good. She had 14 kills on .565 hitting, her best percentage in a season of solid hitting performances.

Freshman Gabby Crowell had 11 kills, including some that were the hardest-hit balls by any player on either team. After getting blocked twice early in the fourth set, Crowell came back and put down three kills in the back half of the set, perhaps making an individual breakthrough that coincided with the team's.

Jones had a match-high nine blocks and Schile seven, helping the Grizzlies out-block one of the Big Sky's top blocking teams. The Hornets are also one of the Big Sky's best digging teams, and Montana won that battle as well, 77-66.

The win keeps Montana within three games of sixth place North Dakota, a still bridgeable gap if the Grizzlies get on a second-half roll.

But before the second half of the Big Sky schedule begins next weekend with North Dakota and Northern Colorado visiting Missoula, a match at surprising Montana State awaits.

Montana (4-14, 2-7 BSC) will play at Montana State (11-5, 5-3 BSC) Monday at 7 p.m. at Bozeman. The Bobcats host Sacramento State Saturday.



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