Griz open four-match home stand
Oct. 30, 2013
The Montana volleyball team will host Eastern Washington and Portland State this week as it begins a four-match home stand. The Grizzlies will host the Eagles on Thursday and the Vikings on Saturday. Both matches start at 7 p.m. at the West Auxiliary Gym.
Montana will host Idaho State and Weber State next week before playing three of four on the road to wrap up the regular season.
Coverage: Video streaming of this week's matches will be available on both GoGriz.com All-Access (paid subscription required) and Big Sky TV (free). Thursday's match will have only the public address announcer. Saturday's match will be called by Shaun Radley and Nate "Boots" Michael.
Where they stand: Montana is 10-11 overall, 7-5 in Big Sky Conference matches and tied for fifth with Sacramento State. ... Eastern Washington is 7-16 overall, 4-8 in Big Sky play and alone in eighth place. ... Portland State is 12-10 overall, 9-3 in league matches and tied for second with Northern Arizona.
What's at stake (Montana): The Grizzlies are in a position they have not held in years. They are both in a solid position to make the Big Sky tournament and a threat to the teams directly above them in the standings.
No one should be surprised if the Grizzlies roll off four straight wins at home over the next two weekends to extend their winning streak to five. That's what senior leadership will do for a program that was floundering just 12 months ago.
"I fully expect us to continue to play well, because we are a very focused group right now," UM coach Jerry Wagner said. "We have some great leadership throughout the team that's focused on doing the things that are necessary in order for everybody to play at their best.
"We're excited to be at home, but I think we're also excited to stay with what's been working. They're excited to play for the person next to them, and it's been very rewarding to watch. There is a sense that everyone on the team is going to give one another their extreme best."
What's at stake (Eastern Washington): The Eagles are not going to make the Big Sky tournament this season in Wade Benson's return to Cheney (he coached EWU from 2000-06 and along with Sac State's Debby Colberg mocked the notion of competitive balance -- the Eagles and Hornets met in the Big Sky tournament championship match seven straight seasons while Benson was in his first go-round).
Teams better enjoy their victories over the Eagles now. There will be few to come by once Benson returns Eastern Washington to one of the Big Sky's dominant programs.
What's at stake (Portland State): The Vikings are probably the only team with a chance to catch Big Sky leader North Dakota (see below). Four straight home matches await PSU once it's played the Montana schools, so the chance to put the heat on UND starts this weekend.
The first time around: Montana pulled a Jekyll and Hyde when it traveled last month to Portland State and Eastern Washington.
The Grizzlies offered up hardly any resistance at all while falling to the Vikings 25-12, 25-17, 25-11. Portland State hit .409 and pounded out 12 service aces in a match that looked like varsity against junior varsity.
And yet the next night Montana won at Eastern Washington for the first time since 1995, 25-22, 25-20, 19-25, 25-20. The Grizzlies hit .254 and had a big night blocking at the net behind senior Brooke Bray's eight.
"We certainly weren't happy with our performance against Portland State. So we pulled together and said, that's not who we are," Wagner said. "That may sound simplistic, but that's what occurred that night."
To save time, a request to get right to the point: Can't we just give Portland State a 12-9 lead in the fifth set and start the match from there? Isn't where this is heading? Isn't that the kind of match the Grizzlies need to win to make things right?
First things first. Portland State has defeated Montana 19 straight times, a steak that predates the Jerry Wagner era (2006-present). It's the last two Viking victories at the West Auxiliary Gym in particular that have left people standing around post-match both speechless and wondering what just happened.
In 2011 the Grizzlies led 13-7 before losing 16-14. In 2012 Montana led 6-2 and 12-10 before losing 15-13. The pain from the stomach-punch losses still lingers.
It wouldn't feel right if Montana won in three sets or four sets or even easily in the fifth on Saturday. The only way to make things right would be for the Grizzlies to pull off a stunning rally, so let's put the Vikings up 12-9 in the fifth and just start the match from there.
The Big Sky power poll (six weeks down, four to go):
Head and shoulder above everyone else: North Dakota (16-8, 11-1 BSC) ... UND has the Big Sky's best balance of overwhelming offense (.263 hitting percentage in league matches) and stifling defense (.168 opponent hitting percentage).
The only team that might catch North Dakota: Portland State (12-10, 9-3 BSC) ... North Dakota plays four of its next six on the road, including a match at Idaho State on Friday and a match at Portland State on Nov. 14. If the Vikings hold steady, UND just might come back to them.
The team that might be really good or just above average, nobody really knows: Northern Arizona (15-6, 9-3 BSC). The Lumberjacks had been lightweights on the road, but Saturday's rally from a 2-0 deficit at Idaho State to win in five sets was something only really good teams do.
Big Sky Conference tournament locks: Idaho State (14-9, 8-4 BSC) and Montana (10-11, 7-5 BSC). The Grizzlies have a two-match lead on its nearest pursuer and a head-to-head sweep of that team (Northern Colorado).
Playing for the final tournament spot: Sacramento State (12-11, 7-5 BSC) and Northern Colorado (9-13, 5-7 BSC). The Hornets hold a two-game lead over the Bears and a head-to-head win in their first meeting at Sacramento, but Sac State is known for being a great home team and not-so-great road team, and the Hornets play six of their last eight away from Colberg Court. ... UNC's fortunes probably rest on its next three matches: at Weber State, at Idaho State, at North Dakota. Or its next three after that: Home for Sacramento State, then at Eastern Washington and Portland State.
Good, but not good enough: Eastern Washington (7-16, 4-8 BSC) and Montana State (5-18, 3-9 BSC).
The rest: Weber State (6-20, 2-10 BSC) and Southern Utah (2-20, 1-11 BSC).
Reno cracks top 10: With 18 kills in Saturday's 3-2 victory at Northern Colorado, senior outside hitter Kayla Reno moved into the Montana top 10 in career kills with 1,124. In doing so she bumped former teammates Amy Roberts (2007-11) and Jaimie Thibeault (2007-10) from a tie for ninth with 1,110 kills into a tie for 10th.
Reno could move into the top seven by the end of this week's matches (see list below) and maybe make her way as high as sixth by season's end.
Reno is also on pace to take more swings than any player in program history.
And Murphey gets closer: Senior libero Megan Murphey, who has 1,060, is 35 digs away from breaking into Montana's top 10 list. Current No. 10 Linde Eidenberg (1991-94) had 1,095 (see list below).
Montana notes: The Grizzlies are now 4-3 in Big Sky road matches. The last time Montana had a record above .500 in league road matches was 2009 (5-3). ... With a solid finish to the season, the Grizzlies could finish with an overall record above .500. That's only happened once in coach Jerry Wagner's first seven years (14-13 in 2008). ... The Grizzlies rank in the bottom half of the Big Sky statistics (league matches only) in every offensive category but fourth in blocks (2.6/s) and fifth in digs (13.1/s). ... UM individuals in the top five: Kayla Reno, third in kills (3.4/s) and fourth in points (4.1/s), and Brooke Bray, fourth in blocks (1.3/s). ... Montana's 92 digs in Saturday's win at Northern Colorado were the most for the Grizzlies since recording the same number against Pacific last season at Idaho's tournament. The last time Montana had more than 92 digs was against Portland State in a five-set semifinal loss to the Vikings at the 2010 Big Sky tournament in Portland.
Career Records Watch
Hitting percentage (min. 1,500 attempts)
12/20/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/29/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/29/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/28/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/27/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/26/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/25/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/23/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/22/2013 - W. Volleyball
11/21/2013 - W. Volleyball
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