Griz approach midway point needing Big Sky wins
Oct. 10, 2012
The Montana volleyball team will conclude the first half of its Big Sky Conference schedule in the coming days with matches against Sacramento State and Montana State. The Grizzlies will host the Hornets Friday at 7 p.m. at the West Auxiliary Gym, then play at Montana State Monday at 7 p.m.
Shaun Radley and Nate Michael, who anchor the Big Sky's No. 2-ranked broadcast behind Northern Arizona's, will call Friday's action.
Monday's match will also be available through Big Sky TV. Live stats can be tracked at MSUBobcats.com.
Where they stand: Montana is 3-14 overall and tied for ninth in the Big Sky Conference at 1-7. The Grizzlies have lost four straight and eight of their last nine.
Sacramento State is 6-11 overall and alone in eighth place in the Big Sky at 2-6. The Hornets enter Friday's match having lost six of seven.
Montana State is 11-5 overall and tied for fifth in the Big Sky at 5-3. The suddenly frisky Bobcats have not lost consecutive matches this season and have won three of their last four going into their home match Saturday night against Sac State.
What's at stake: If the regular season ended today, Montana State would make its first Big Sky Conference tournament since 2005, and Montana and Sacramento State would both be staying home for Thanksgiving.
But the regular season does not end today, which gives the Grizzlies and Hornets both hope and six weeks to play their way back into the top six by mid-November. Both teams need Friday's win for some much-needed momentum, and both would like to make it a two-match sweep with a follow-up win at Montana State.
"There is still a lot more volleyball out there to be played, and this team understands that," UM coach Jerry Wagner said about his team's morale. "We're just now reaching the halfway point, and I don't think anyone in this group wants what has occurred to define what this team can do.
"We're just going to continue to keep putting ourselves in good situations and believe it's eventually going to turn in our favor."
Most recently: After being on the verge of a breakthrough on its four-match home stand, Montana went backwards last week on its trip to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies lost both matches in straight sets, getting outscored 150-98 and hitting .109 to their opponents' .365.
"This past weekend was not indicative of what we can do," Wagner said. "We need to get back to the form we showed in the weeks leading up to that trip. We need to return to those things that had us right in the mix."
Sacramento State split at home last weekend, falling to Idaho State in five sets before rebounding with a 3-1 win over Weber State.
Montana State split the NAU-SUU road trip. After opening with a 3-0 loss at Northern Arizona, only the Bobcats' second three-set loss of the season, MSU posted an impressive four-set at Southern Utah.
Montana-Sacramento State at a glance: The Hornets are 0-4 on the road in league matches, but their style of play is going to give fits to the area of Montana's game most in need of a confidence boost: the Grizzlies' offense.
Despite its record, Sacramento State can make the argument it is the Big Sky Conference's top defensive team. The Hornets are allowing their opponents to hit just .151 in league play, the second-best mark in the Big Sky, and they rank first in blocks and second in digs.
On its recent four-match home stand, which ended with a 1-3 record and three five-set losses, Montana hit .199 and is hitting .170 for the season. The good news is that Sac State does not possess the offensive punch of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, which points to a tight match Friday.
"I'd like to see us get back to improving our efficiency on offense, because all the elements are in place," Wagner said. "And we're spending a lot of time on our blocking and defensive presence, because those are areas that can turn matches in your favor.
"We know we're going to be facing a team (Friday) that blocks and defends as well as anybody in the conference. We're going to have to get back to our offensive ways in a short period of time (this week at practice)."
Possible UM-SAC note of relevancy: The Grizzlies and Hornets are 0-5 in their Big Sky matches that have gone five sets.
Series history: Because of the Debby Colberg Effect, Sac State leads the all-time series against Montana, 26-9. Since snapping an 18-match losing streak to the Hornets in 2008, the Grizzlies have won five of seven, including the last four in Missoula.
Montana-Montana State at a glance: Between 2006 and 2011, the Bobcats had a Big Sky Conference record of 11-85. None of that mattered to first-year MSU coach Kyle Weindel, who has led a turnaround that even a Montana fan can applaud.
MSU already has five league wins this season and for the first time in years has to be considered the favorite going into Monday night's match. The Grizzlies are 11-1 against the Bobcats under seventh-year coach Jerry Wagner, 6-0 at Bozeman, with the last four meetings at MSU turning out 3-0 sweeps.
Montana State is six matches over .500 because 1) the Bobcats are 5-1 in five-set matches, including 3-2 league wins over North Dakota, Eastern Washington and Idaho State, and 2) MSU has elevated its offensive attack.
Montana State is hitting a nice percentage of .212 and is averaging 12.82 kills per set, more than a kill and a half per set more than Montana. Outside hitters Sarah Horton (3.86/s) and Macy Page (3.38/s) are two of the Big Sky's top five hitters in terms of kills per match.
"There is obviously going to be some enthusiasm anytime you are doing some new things," Wagner said. "What is hidden in the team's success is that some veterans are having some really nice seasons. They are being rewarded for their determination."
Series history: Monday's match will be the teams' 100th meeting, with MSU holding a slight 50-49 edge. The teams have split their 42 meetings at Bozeman, 21-21.
Around the Big Sky Conference: Everyone should be thankful the regular season does not end today, because that would cancel Friday's match between Portland State and Idaho State at Pocatello, Idaho. The Vikings (12-7, 8-0 BSC) are unbeaten through four weekends of league play, the Bengals have lost just once (13-4, 7-1 BSC).
A note for some perspective: Montana held fifth-set leads on both Portland State and Idaho State earlier this season, yet they enter Friday's match with a single league loss between them.
One other match to watch: Thursday, Northern Arizona (14-3, 6-2 BSC) at Northern Colorado (13-4, 6-2 BSC). The hottest team in the league against the defending Big Sky champion and preseason favorite. Delicious.
Current Big Sky standings:
Portland State ... 8-0 BSC ... 12-7 overall
This week's schedule:
Thursday: SUU at UND, NAU at UNC, EWU at WSU
Upcoming: Montana will start its Big Sky schedule over again, opening the back half with home matches against North Dakota and Northern Colorado on Oct. 19-20.
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