Oct. 25, 2012
After snapping its 26-match losing streak that spanned two seasons with a victory over Sacramento State Monday, the Eastern Washington volleyball team made it two straight wins with a 3-0 victory over Montana Thursday night at Cheney, Wash.
Even more surprising than the loss, which kept Montana winless in its last 17 trips to Cheney, were the final scores: 25-16, 25-18, 25-17. The Grizzlies hit just .109, the lowest hitting percentage by an EWU opponent this season.
Montana (6-16, 4-9 BSC) won the earlier meeting against Eastern Washington (2-22, 2-11 BSC) in Missoula in straight sets.
"I saw a very good Eastern Washington team when we played them at home, but I didn't do a very good job of getting my team ready to play a very good team tonight," said UM coach Jerry Wagner, whose team had won three of its previous four.
"I just don't seem to be able to get this team playing at a high level on a consistent basis. We were just overmatched offensively tonight."
What made the loss even more frustrating was that the three teams directly in front of Montana in the Big Sky Conference standings -- Montana State, North Dakota and Southern Utah -- all lost Thursday night as well, making it an opportunity lost to make up ground.
Not only are future opportunities becoming scarce -- Montana is down to seven remaining regular-season matches -- they only get tougher. The Grizzlies play at first-place Portland State Saturday and at second-place Idaho State a week from Friday.
The team's brightest performer Thursday, as she has been consistently all season, was junior Brooke Bray. The middle blocker had eight kills on .438 hitting and totaled three blocks. Bray has hit .527 the last five matches to up her season hitting percentage to .358.
Junior middle blocker Janele Vogt, getting her third start of the season, matched Bray, totaling eight kills on .462 hitting with three blocks.
The difference in the match came on the outside, where Eastern Washington's Cora Kellerman and Allie Schumacher combined for 21 kills on .315 hitting. The Eagles hit .292 for the match and had 15 more kills than the Grizzlies.
Montana's left-side hitters combined to hit -.034, a percentage that can partly be explained by the Eagles' 11-6 blocking advantage.
If there is any good news, it's this: Montana had a similar result last Friday night in an ugly 3-0 home-court loss to North Dakota. The Grizzlies came back 24 hours later and played their best match of the season, a 3-1 victory over preseason Big Sky favorite Northern Colorado.
"This type of thing happened just last week, so I'm expecting a similar response," Wagner said. "I expect us to put up a highly determined effort Saturday night against an even tougher opponent than the one we faced tonight."
Montana will play at Portland State (16-8, 12-1 BSC) Saturday at 8 p.m. (MT). The Vikings beat Montana State Thursday night 3-1 and beat the Grizzlies in Missoula last month in five sets.
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