Griz rally, stun Bobcats in Bozeman
Oct. 15, 2012
Not even Lazarus had a comeback this surprising. Beaten badly in the first two sets, the Montana volleyball team rose up and rallied for a five-set win at Montana State Monday night to give the Grizzlies their first two-match winning streak of the season and their seventh straight win over the Bobcats in Bozeman.
Montana State had 18 more kills than Montana while winning the opening two sets, 25-16, 25-17, but the Grizzlies mostly matched the Bobcats offensively the rest of the match and had the superior defense to take the final three sets, 25-20, 26-24, 15-10.
"I'm just thrilled. This is as proud of a team as I've ever been," said UM coach Jerry Wagner, who improved to 12-1 against Montana State. "I loved the mental toughness this team showed tonight. I think they are starting to believe that we can be a pretty good team."
The win moves Montana (5-14, 3-7 BSC) into a tie for eighth at the midway point of the Big Sky Conference schedule, and more important within two games of sixth place, the cutoff to make next month's Big Sky tournament.
Montana State (11-7, 5-5 BSC), the talk of the conference two weeks ago after its 4-2 league start, has dropped three of four to fall back to .500 in Big Sky play.
Had the Bobcats won, MSU's Sarah Horton would have been the story of the match. Even in defeat hers was a noteworthy performance. The junior outside hitter finished with a staggering 38 kills on .351 hitting, 11 more kills than any other Big Sky Conference player has recorded in a match this season.
She had 11 kills in the opening set alone and six more in set two as Montana State made it look easy before its raucous crowd of 1,538. The Bobcats scored 39 of their 50 points through the first two sets off kills and .373 hitting.
"Our play in the first two sets wasn't what we talked about before the match," Wagner said. "Montana State is playing well this season, and we needed to meet their level of play, and we never really locked in on what we wanted to do."
Montana came out for the third set with a resiliency that is tough enough to conjure up at home. On the road, in a hostile environment, after being thoroughly outplayed through the first two sets?
"(In between sets two and three) we had a chance to breathe, collect ourselves and say, `We're better than this,' " Wagner said.
"You have to tune the crowd out and be mentally tough. At that point all you have is each other. Everyone else in the building is against you."
Montana broke a 10-10 tie in the third on a kill by junior setter Kortney James and led the rest of the set.
Montana State totaled 15 kills in the set, in most matches a winning number, but the Grizzlies finally became a presence at the net and forced the Bobcats into 11 hitting errors. MSU had just eight attack errors in the first two sets combined.
The match was won in the fourth set, when Montana rallied from down 15-11. Junior Brooke Bray, brilliant for the second straight match, and sophomore Kelsey Schile both had a pair of kills that allowed the Grizzlies to tie it at 19, and Montana pulled out the win on its second set-point opportunity.
After falling behind 2-1 through the first three points in the fifth set, Montana scored 10 of the next 11 to take an 11-3 lead and seize control.
Two key points early on were back-to-back service aces by junior Kayla Reno that made it 4-2. One of the points late in the decisive run came as a result of a red card on Montana State coach Kyle Weindel, who was 1) coaching and 2) getting frustrated in his first Griz-Cat matchup.
Perhaps just as satisfying as the comeback was beating a Big Sky Conference opponent in a fifth set. Montana had previously played in three such league matches and dropped all three, putting the Grizzlies in the position they are in the standings.
"We've had our chances before to close out teams if we'd just stuck to the plan," Wagner said. "Tonight we showed some toughness, and in the final three sets we looked like the team I've always known we can be.
"We played better defensively, we blocked better, we served better, and most important, we out-competed them."
No one matched Horton Monday night, but Bray was close. She had 17 kills on .556 hitting and added eight blocks. Going back to Friday's 3-1 home-court win over Sacramento State, Bray has posted two-match totals of 31 kills (3.44/s) on .560 hitting and 11 blocks.
With Montana State keeping Reno, Montana's top outside threat, mostly in check (eight kills on .135 hitting), Schile picked up the slack and totaled 16 kills, one off her season high, and three blocks.
James had 47 assists and nine digs, and junior Megan Murphey keyed Montana's back-row play for the second straight match. After digging 24 balls Friday against the Hornets, the Bozeman native brought up 23 more Monday.
The numbers for junior Janele Vogt, who had played in just 16 sets this season and totaled six kills and four blocks, were modest, but her impact off the bench was critical. She had five kills on .444 hitting and four blocks, all in the final four sets.
Montana won the match despite getting out-killed (78-56), out-hit (.231-.218) and out-dug (73-66). The only area the Grizzlies had an advantage was in blocks (14-9) ... and on the scoreboard.
Montana will host North Dakota (10-11, 5-5 BSC) Friday at 7 p.m. and Northern Colorado (14-5, 7-3 BSC) Saturday at 7 p.m. at the West Auxiliary Gym. The Grizzlies lost to UND earlier this season in straight sets and to the Bears in four sets.
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