Griz whip Thunderbirds, clinch tournament spot
Nov. 16, 2013
It's not a worst-to-first story, at least not yet anyway, but the Montana volleyball team will gladly take it.
The Grizzlies won 25-15, 25-19, 25-21 at Southern Utah Saturday night and an hour later claimed the fifth spot to the six-team Big Sky Conference tournament when Portland State knocked off Northern Colorado in straight sets.
Montana will join North Dakota, Portland State, Idaho State and Northern Arizona at the tournament, which will be held in two weeks at Portland, Ore., and either Sacramento State or Northern Colorado, which will go into the last week of the regular season battling for the final tournament spot.
The Grizzlies, who tied for last a year ago and were picked to finish last this season in the preseason coaches' poll, will be playing in their first tournament since 2010.
"I'm so happy for these kids, because nobody gave us a doggone thing," UM coach Jerry Wagner said.
"We played with a lot of heart and a lot of character last year, but we had to find a winning touch and a way to climb our way up, and we're doing it. We've been able to build on each of our previous weeks, and the contributions have come from everyone. It's really gratifying, because it was a lot to overcome."
Montana was so dominant on Saturday night that the entire match had just a single lead change. And that came right after Southern Utah (4-25, 3-15 BSC) scored the opening point of the match. The Grizzlies scored the next five points, and SUU never held another lead.
"We got right after them and never let them breath," said Wagner.
More than anything, Montana's rebound this season can be traced to the way it has played on the road. The Grizzlies, who won just a single Big Sky road match last season, improved to 5-4 away from home this year with Saturday's win.
"One thing I've really enjoyed throughout the year is the great senior leadership we've had," Wagner said. "They've set a good path for us to follow."
Montana, which can't finish higher than fifth in the final regular-season standings, will play its last regular-season matches against Sacramento State (14-15, 9-9 BSC) and Montana State (6-23, 4-14 BSC).
The Grizzlies will host the Hornets next Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the West Auxiliary Gym on Senior Night, then travel to Bozeman to face the Bobcats Monday night.
The Big Sky Conference tournament will open Friday morning, Nov. 29, at Portland State's Stott Center. Montana will play in one of the two quarterfinal matches.
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