Montana pulls out five-set victory over Northern Colorado
Oct. 22, 2011
The Montana volleyball team knocked Northern Colorado out of the Big Sky Conference lead and insinuated itself into postseason discussion with a 3-2 victory over the Bears Saturday night at the West Auxiliary Gym in Missoula, 23-25, 25-16, 17-25, 25-23, 15-11.
Freshman Kelsey Schile had a season-high 21 kills, and the Grizzlies hit .272 for their third win in a row and fifth in their last six matches.
The win lifted Montana (8-10, 5-5 BSC) into a three-way tie for fifth in the Big Sky standings. Sacramento State, at 6-2, took over the top spot from Northern Colorado (13-8, 7-3 BSC) by not playing league matches this weekend.
Just two games separate the six teams trailing the Hornets with four weekends of Big Sky matches remaining.
After digging itself a 0-4 start to its conference season, Montana continued its roll with the team's most impressive win of the season. What was notable was not just the team they knocked off - UNC had won the teams' last four meetings by combined set scores of 12 to 2 - but how the Grizzlies did it.
The Bears have built the Big Sky's best program by being largely one-dimensional - all offense all the time. Saturday night Montana's offense matched Northern Colorado's, and the Grizzlies added a dimension the Bears didn't have: blocking.
Montana finished with 15.0 team blocks to Northern Colorado's 6.0. The Grizzlies also out-dug the Bears.
"We've been playing good offense for a while now, so probably the biggest area that's been coming along is the combination of our blocking and our defense," UM coach Jerry Wagner said.
"That is something that is starting to set us apart a little bit.
"(Northern Colorado) counts on digging the ball, and we matched them in that area, which says a lot about the effort that was going on out there."
Montana spotted Northern Colorado a 9-3 lead in the opening set, yet fought back to take an 18-17 lead.
The Bears would pull out the set, 25-23, on kills by Andrea Spaustat and Brittany Crenshaw, but Montana carried that momentum to the second set and hit .483 in a decisive 25-16 win.
UNC had an equally emphatic win in the third set, which set up a tight fourth set that featured 14 ties and four lead changes.
After Northern Colorado tied the set at 11 on a Spaustat kill, neither team held more than a two-point lead the rest of the set, which was characterized by high-level, edge-of-your-seat volleyball.
UNC setter Marissa Hughes made it 24-23 with a kill, then Roberts finished it with her sixth kill of the set.
Northern Colorado hit .366 for the set, Montana .444.
The Grizzlies got a pair of kills from Roberts early in the fifth set to go up 4-2, and they held the lead the rest of the way, finishing off the match with another heavy-handed kill from Schile.
Schile had 21 kills on .341 hitting and added five blocks, and she was one of a number of hitting, blocking and digging stars.
Bray cooled off offensively but matched a career-high with nine blocks, Roberts had 15 kills on .268 hitting with 21 digs, senior Brittany Quick finished with nine kills on .500 hitting and four blocks, and sophomore Kayla Reno had 12 kills, 15 digs and three blocks.
Sophomore Megan Murphey made the preseason predictions of her stepping into Brittney Brown's Libero of the Year shoes look more and more accurate with 22 digs, a solid night's effort against the hardest hitting team in the league.
Directing the offense was sophomore setter Kortney James, who spread the wealth and finished with a career-high 59 assists. She also had 10 digs and a pair of blocks.
"The team as a whole played very well, but Kelsey was hot tonight," Wagner said. "The setter decides who needs to get the ball so we can tactically get after teams, and that's going to be somebody different every night, from matchup to matchup.
"Kelsey had the right matchups, and you just applaud her because she was ready to do what she was supposed to do.
"When it's somebody different each match, that just makes it that much more special."
On its current run of five wins in six matches, with only a 3-1 loss at Idaho State marring that stretch, Montana is hitting .233 while limiting opponents to .155. The Grizzlies are also out-digging those opponents and handily out-blocking them.
"We've started answering the call when other teams are pushing back," Wagner said. "Those times are becoming less and less, and we're growing in confidence because of it."
Montana has a big opportunity next week when it faces two teams just ahead of it in the Big Sky Conference standings.
The Grizzlies will face Eastern Washington (10-11, 6-4 BSC) Friday at Cheney, Wash., and Portland State (11-11, 7-3 BSC) Saturday at Portland, Ore.
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