Griz embarking on first Big Sky road trip
Sept. 26, 2013
The Montana volleyball team will play its first Big Sky Conference road matches of the season when it faces Portland State and Eastern Washington this weekend. The Grizzlies will play the Vikings Friday at 5 p.m. (MT) in Portland and the Eagles Saturday at 7 p.m. (MT) in Cheney.
Live coverage: Fans can monitor the action of both matches through Big Sky TV and live stats. Links to all services can be found on the volleyball schedule page at GoGriz.com.
The team that beat the Bears hit .245 and dominated every phase of the match. One night later Montana hit .064 and allowed North Dakota to hit .288, though there is some belief around the league that UND might very well be league's top team, which would explain the result but not the fashion in which it happened.
The historical challenge: Let's get right to the point. Since Portland State joined the Big Sky Conference in 1996, Montana has made the road trip 17 times and 17 times come away without a sweep.
More numbers: Montana has lost 18 straight times to Portland State. The Grizzlies have not defeated the Vikings since 2004, which was pre-coach Jerry Wagner. Montana has dropped its last 13 matches in Portland, with its last Stott Center victory coming in 2000.
Montana is 5-29 against Eastern Washington since 1996, though four of those victories have come since 2008, all at home. The Grizzlies have lost 17 straight times in Cheney, with their last victory coming in 1995.
What Montana is up against: Programs led by two coaches who would be on the Mt. Rushmore of Big Sky volleyball coaches of the modern era (late 90s to present).
Michael Seemann is in his seventh year as head coach at Portland State. He's led the Vikings to a regular-season league mark of 83-19, four shared or outright regular-season championships (and never lower than a second-place finish) and two postseason tournament championships.
Wade Benson is in his first year back at Eastern Washington after a six-year absence. As the Eagles' head coach from 2000-06, Benson led EWU to a league record of 78-24, six consecutive 20-win seasons, three Big Sky regular-season titles and a spot in the postseason tournament championship match each of his seven seasons.
To fill out the Mt. Rushmore quartet of coaches, we'll add former Sacramento State coach Debby Colberg and current Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Oates. That foursome accounts for every Big Sky tournament championship dating back to 2000.
Where they stand: Montana is 4-7 overall and one of five teams that went 1-1 on the opening weekend of Big Sky Conference matches.
Portland State is 5-7 overall, though that partly came from playing a nonconference schedule that featured four nationally ranked teams. The Vikings opened Big Sky play in predictable fashion: 3-0 sweeps at home of Sacramento State and Eastern Washington. Average set score: 25-16.
Eastern Washington is 4-9 overall and played three nationally ranked teams in its nonconference schedule. The Eagles opened league play last Thursday with a 3-2 comeback victory at home over Sac State, then went on the road Monday for a sound 25-17, 25-19, 25-15 thrashing at the hands of PSU.
Match notes: The Grizzlies are hitting .197 for the season while allowing their opponents to hit .225. ... Montana has hit .230 or better in five of 11 matches this season but never in consecutive matches. ... For the season Portland State is hitting .178 and Eastern Washington .185, though the Vikings hit .250 in their two league victories. ... Something to watch for in Friday's match: Portland State has 22 service aces through its first six sets in league play. The Vikings have only allowed five during that time. ... The four teams playing on this weekend's trip (adding in Montana State) are the four lowest-ranked teams in the Big Sky in opponent hitting percentage. Montana ranks eighth (.225), Portland State ranks ninth (.225), Eastern Washington ranks 10th (.241) and Montana State ranks 11th (.244). However in its two league wins, PSU allowed just .080 hitting to Sac State and Eastern Washington. ... Montana (2.61/s) continues to lead the Big Sky in blocking. ... Montana senior middle blocker Brooke Bray ranks fourth in the Big Sky in hitting (.302) and third in blocks (1.24/s), senior outside hitter Kayla Reno ranks sixth in kills (3.14/s) and fourth in points (3.71) -- a statistic that accounts for kills, service aces and blocks -- redshirt junior middle blocker Natalie Jones ranks sixth in blocks (1.18/s), and senior Megan Murphey ranks sixth in digs (3.90/s).
Record keeping: Kayla Reno went over the 1,000 kills mark for her career in Saturday's loss to North Dakota. She has 1,002 for her career and will crack Montana's top 10 list by the end of the season. ... Brooke Bray ranks fifth in block assists (319) and ninth in total blocks (360) and her .258 career hitting percentage ranks fifth. ... Megan Murphey has 943 career digs. She'll reach 1,000 by next weekend and needs to reach 1,095 by season's end to make the UM top 10. ... Senior setter Kortney James has 3,168 assists, which ranks No. 6 all-time. She'll likely end her career holding down the No. 5 spot.
Around the Big Sky Conference: Portland State is one of three teams that opened its league schedule with a 2-0 record. North Dakota swept the Montana State-Montana road trip, and Northern Arizona won at home against Idaho State and Weber State. ... Three other matches to keep an eye on this week: Idaho State at Northern Colorado on Thursday (rematch of last season's Big Sky tournament championship match), Northern Arizona at Sacramento State on Friday (a prove-it match for the Lumberjacks to show they're as good as their 8-3 record indicates they are), Idaho State at North Dakota on Saturday (two programs expected to be among the league leaders two months from now).
Upcoming: Montana will make another road trip next week when the Grizzlies travel to face Weber State and Idaho State.
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