Megan Murphey had a team-high 13 digs
Nov. 2, 2013
If the Big Sky Conference volleyball schedule is a series of tests, Montana is getting high marks for its work against the teams that make up the bottom half of the standings. As for the top-half teams, that exam is still being taken.
The most recent test was against Portland State, and it was graded quicker than Montana would have liked. The Vikings defeated the Grizzlies for the 20th consecutive time with a 25-21, 25-15, 25-15 victory Saturday night at the West Auxiliary Gym.
Montana, 11-12 overall, dropped to 8-6 in league matches, and all six losses have come against the Big Sky's four best teams: North Dakota (0-2), Portland State (0-2), Northern Arizona (0-1) and Idaho State (0-1). The Grizzlies have won just one set out of 19 this season against those teams.
Montana is 8-0 against everybody else.
"This type of match is our next test," UM coach Jerry Wagner said. "Not so much beating a team, though that's what we're trying to do, but can we be more consistent right out of the gate and hang on to it longer?"
Montana was sharp early and jumped out to a pair of four-point leads in the opening set, but behind Garyn Schlatter, the Big Sky's best setter, Portland State (14-10, 11-3 BSC) rallied to win, then hit .333 in sets two and three to remain within two games of Big Sky leader North Dakota (18-8, 13-1 BSC).
"I was at a loss for words when I met with the team afterwards, because I don't feel like the score indicates the position we put ourselves in," Wagner said.
"But small plays against a good team like that turn into big point spreads. A small lapse in your serve receive, and it quickly ends up being a 10-point loss. I think if we clean up some finer points in the game, we're still playing."
Senior Kayla Reno led Montana with nine kills, but nobody else had more than five as the Grizzlies totaled just 28 kills for the match on .114 hitting. Portland State, which was led by Aubrey Mitchell's 13, had 51 kills on .282 hitting.
The difference wasn't so much PSU's hitters as it was libero Kasi Clark, who single-handedly kept Montana's hitting percentage low and kills off the stat sheet. She had 24 digs, most of them passed on the spot to Schlatter, who then was able to direct Portland State's offense.
"If I was to point to one stat, their kid dug great," Wagner said. "She was the biggest difference for them tonight, but we gave her too many balls. We have to improve out decision-making on who's being set and why."
The loss keeps Montana in a fifth-place tie with Sacramento State (13-12, 8-6 BSC), which lost Saturday night at Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies have what amounts to a four-game cushion over their closest pursuers for a Big Sky tournament spot with six matches to go.
Montana's next test is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. when the Grizzlies host Idaho State. The Bengals swept Montana in Pocatello last month 3-0.
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