Griz open season with three matches at Moscow

Capri Richardson will make her Montana debut this weekend

Capri Richardson will make her Montana debut this weekend

Aug. 22, 2012

The Montana volleyball team will open its 2012 season this weekend with three matches at the Idaho Nike Invitational at Moscow, Idaho. The Grizzlies will face Washington State, Idaho and Pacific at the two-day tournament.

Montana will face Washington State in the tournament's first match Friday at 5:30 p.m. (MT). On Saturday the Grizzlies will take on Idaho and Pacific at 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (MT).

"We're really excited to get going. I can't wait to get this team out there," seventh-year coach Jerry Wagner said. "I think we are ahead of where we've been the last few years at this point and in a much better place going into our first match.

"All these schools are well-coached, so I'm expecting a stern test from all three teams. We'll have our hands full, but I like where we're starting from."

If you can't make it to Moscow: Live stats for all six tournament matches will be available through Idaho's website, For a direct link to the live stats, click here.

Tournament in a nutshell: Montana is the tournament underdog. The Grizzlies, who were ranked 207th, had a lower RPI at the end of last season than Pacific (92), Idaho (105) and Washington State (156), and all three teams have more returning starters than Montana.

"On paper we're the underdog, but I don't expect us to play like an underdog," Wagner said. "I want to go up against these teams at a totally different level than we did at the beginning of last season (when Montana went 3-5 prior to the start of Big Sky play).

"I want to take away from this tournament whatever lessons we're supposed to learn and build from there. And I want to see us break through, and breaking through could take on many different forms.



"Obviously we'd like to see that breakthrough come in the form of a win or two or three as a result of us putting things together for longer than the team we're playing."

Last season: Montana went 11-13 a year ago, finishing fifth in the Big Sky Conference with an 8-8 league record. The Grizzlies missed the four-team Big Sky tournament after advancing to the postseason in 2008, '09 and '10.

Washington State finished 12-20 last fall, mostly courtesy of the Pac-12, the nation's toughest volleyball conference. The Cougars went 8-2 during the nonconference portion of their schedule, then 4-18 in league matches. Twelve of WSU's 22 Pac-12 matches came against teams that at the time were ranked among the nation's top 20.

Idaho went 16-12 overall and tied for second in the WAC with New Mexico State at 10-4. Both teams trailed Hawaii in the standings. The Vandals ended their season with a 3-0 loss to NMSU in the WAC tournament semifinals.

Pacific went 18-12 in 2012 and finished fourth in the Big West at 8-8. The Big West Conference does not have a postseason tournament.

Where they were picked in 2012: Montana was picked fifth in the preseason Big Sky Conference coaches' poll. ... Washington State was picked 11th in the Pac-12, which had six teams in the preseason national top 20, with No. 1 and defending NCAA champion UCLA, No. 5 USC and No. 6 Stanford all receiving national first-place votes. ... Idaho, with two first-place votes, was picked second in the now Hawaii-less WAC behind New Mexico State. ... Pacific was picked fourth in the 10-team Big West, which now features Hawaii.

Who to watch for: There were no major shakeups for Montana during the preseason, so look for the expected lineup this weekend. James at setter, Reno and senior Paige Branstiter on the outside, Bray in the middle, Schile on the right side and Murphey locking down the back row.

To that group, Wagner adds, "I would expect that you would see the start of (redshirt freshman middle blocker) Capri Richardson's and (junior defensive specialist) Sam Maas's careers as Griz.

"I expect (freshman outside hitter) Gabby Crowell to play, I expect (sophomore middle blocker) Natalie Jones to get some action, and I expect Ally Barry to come in in a specialty role."

That lists everyone on the roster except freshman defensive specialist Sadie Ahearn, who is a candidate to redshirt, and junior middle blocker/outside hitter Janele Vogt, who is a piece of paper or two from being eligible after transferring from North Idaho College.

The only question is Schile, who is training herself back into match shape after offseason knee surgery.

"Kelsey's conditioning is getting closer and closer to where we need it to be for her to compete," Wagner said. "That's important, because she definitely makes us a more formidable opponent."

Histories: Montana has gone 26-27 against Idaho in a rivalry that played out at the top of the Big Sky Conference during the Grizzlies' halcyon days as a program (the teams finished first and second, in some order, in the Big Sky for three straight seasons during the early 90s). The Vandals have won 15 of the last 18 meetings and took a 25-22, 25-14, 25-23 decision last September at Montana's tournament.

Montana has met Pacific three times and has won just one set against the program that won the 1986 national championship. The Grizzlies lost at Pacific in straight sets in both 1990 and 1991 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and 3-1 in a neutral-site match at Nevada in 2006 in Wagner's fifth match on the Montana sideline.

Montana and Washington State have a long history -- the Grizzlies hold a 16-15 all-time edge -- but it's a distant history. The teams have not faced one another since 1992.

Notes for the preseason: Montana has not won a tournament since defeating Fairfield, Rhode Island and Maine at Maine's season-opening tournament in 2005 in what was previous coach Nikki Best's final season. ... Montana has not entered the Big Sky Conference portion of its schedule with a nonconference record of .500 or better in Wagner's first six seasons. ... With 1,822 assists, Kortney James ranks No. 9 on the Montana career list. She should be No. 6 by the end of her junior season and should have a shot at catching No. 4 Taryn Wright (3,882, 2006-09) by the time James is done. ... Paige Branstiter is the lone senior on this year's team. ... The longer a match goes, the better chance Montana has of winning. The Grizzlies went just 1-6 in three-set matches last season but were better than .500 when they extended matches to four (5-4) and five (5-3) sets.

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