Griz turn it around, upset Bears
Oct. 20, 2012
On Friday night the Montana volleyball team played its worst match of the season, losing at home in straight sets to North Dakota. One night later on the same court, the Grizzlies played their best match of the year, hitting a season-best .349 in an 18-25, 25-22, 25-23, 25-21 victory over Northern Colorado.
The shocking 24-hour turnaround gives Montana (6-15, 4-8 BSC) its third win in four matches and reignites the flicker of hope that the Big Sky Conference tournament is still attainable. Just when you think you're out, they pull you back in.
"I told the team pretty directly after Friday night that there was nothing good that we did out there (against North Dakota). There wasn't a single positive thing to take away from that match," UM coach Jerry Wagner said.
Saturday he would have needed a bushel to carry away the positives.
Montana did not commit a hitting error until midway through the second set, and the Grizzlies' top four hitters -- juniors Kayla Reno and Brooke Bray, sophomore Kelsey Schile and freshman Gabby Crowell -- accounted for 51 kills and had just four attack errors. The quartet hit .395, with junior setter Kortney James finishing with a season-high 52 assists.
"This wasn't a fluke," Wagner claimed. "This was everybody doing the right thing, a complete team effort from start to finish. We were just locked in, and everybody kept following what was working.
"This was our best match of the season, bar none."
It's not often that a team's best match of the season starts with a 25-18 loss in the opening set, but that's what happened Saturday. Northern Colorado put down 20 kills on .405 hitting in the first set to overwhelm Montana, which had a solid set itself with 13 kills and no errors on .419 hitting.
"I thought we were okay. I really did," Wagner said. "I told the team, `There are a lot of good things developing here. Let's just stick to what we're doing.'
"I thought the things we talked about were going to work if we stuck with them, but if we wanted to climb back into it, we needed to lay it on the line."
And the Grizzlies did. They hit better than .310 all four sets, while Northern Colorado tailed off steadily as the match progressed, from .405 in the opener to .219 by the fourth set.
And yet the Bears were in a position to go up 2-1 late in the third set when they went up 22-20 on a kill from Kelley Arnold, who would finish with a match-high 17 kills.
That's when Schile came to the rescue. She had four kills in the set's final six points to lift Montana to the victory.
With the set tied at 23, Schile took a set from James on the right side and tipped a ball over a two-Bear block, and the ball found a clear spot on the floor.
She took a set on the next point as well but back at the three-meter line. Didn't matter. She ripped an attack that rattled off another two-player block and to the floor, giving the Grizzlies a match-turning 25-23 victory.
"I was proud Kelsey took a swing for the set and didn't settle for something passive," Wagner said. "(UNC) jumped with two (blockers on the final point), but they jumped too early and it flopped down in front of them.
"It was a big point in the match, and we created a break for ourselves."
Montana jumped out to a 9-3 lead in the final set, but it wouldn't be easy closing out the defending Big Sky Conference champions.
The Bears fought back to within one point four times, and all four times one of Montana's big four answered with a kill. Two came from Reno, one from Bray and one from Crowell that made it 20-18 and started a 5-0 run that finally put down the Bears.
"We've been slowly transitioning from having two or three players putting us right there in matches," Wagner said, holding thumb and forefinger half an inch apart. "We've been waiting for that fourth and fifth player, and tonight we finally had them."
Bray was nearly flawless offensively, finishing with 11 kills and no errors on 16 swings to hit .688. Schile had 12 kills on .455 hitting, Reno totaled a team-high 15 kills on .277 hitting.
The match was the long-expected coming out party for Crowell, who entered the match hitting .038. Saturday she had 13 kills and no errors on 34 swings to hit .382 and jump-served a pair of aces.
The fifth offensive weapon Saturday was junior Janele Vogt, who finished with a season-high eight kills on .158 hitting.
Junior Megan Murphey had a team-high 15 digs, and four different players had two blocks each.
If Montana wants to keep alive its postseason hopes, the Grizzlies will need to do work on the road the next two weekends. Montana will play at Eastern Washington and first-place Portland State next week, then at second-place Idaho State and Weber State the following week.
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