The Montana soccer team will host a tournament the final weekend of August and get the opportunity to face four Power Five opponents during the nonconference portion of a fall schedule that was finalized recently.
The Grizzlies, under now seventh-year coach Mark Plakorus, will get Nebraska in a neutral-site match at Pullman, Wash., play road games at Iowa and Oregon, and host Washington State in a mark-your-calendar-now match on Sunday, Sept. 17.
Those Power Five opponents will face a program that knocked off Iowa in 2015 and went on the road and won at Purdue last fall.
“I’m sure some coaches look at it as an easy win against a team from the Big Sky, but I think most of the programs who schedule us are aware of what we’ve done,” said Plakorus.
“They know we’re a good, solid team who will give them a good game and be a challenge for them. And that’s what we want as well. We want the best games we can find that will challenge us.”
Montana, which went 9-6-5 last year, 5-2-3 in league matches to tie for third in the Big Sky Conference, will open the season with road games at Boise State and Utah State on Aug. 18 and 20.
The Grizzlies defeated the Broncos 1-0 in Missoula last season to improve to 4-0 against Boise State under Plakorus. Montana and Utah State will be playing for the first time since 2007.
The team’s home schedule opens with the four-match Montana Cup at South Campus Stadium on Friday, Aug. 25, and Sunday, Aug. 27. The Grizzlies will face Air Force and San Jose State, with Eastern Washington rounding out the field.
Montana and San Jose State played to a 0-0 draw last season in California.
The Grizzlies will face Georgia Southern and Nebraska, an NCAA tournament team last year, the opening weekend of September at Pullman, then travel to Iowa for road matches against the Hawkeyes and Northern Iowa. The Grizzlies defeated Iowa 1-0 in Missoula in 2015.
The final nonconference weekend will open with a match at Oregon — the Grizzlies are 4-0 all-time against the Ducks, the last meeting coming in 2007 — and conclude with a home game against Washington State.
The Cougars pulled out a 1-0 overtime win at Missoula in 2015 and a 2-1 victory in Pullman last season, rallying back from an early 1-0 deficit.
Washington State, which is coached by Todd Shulenberger, has won the last seven meetings against Montana. Six of those have been one-goal decisions.
“I think Todd respects what we do. We have a history with Washington State, so they know what our quality is. He knows it’s going to be a good game for his team,” said Plakorus.
“And he also expects us to do well throughout our season so that our matchup becomes a good RPI game for him. That’s another way he views it.”
The Big Sky schedule opens in the best way possible: against this year’s lone wolf, Southern Utah, on Sunday, Sept. 24, a match that will come two days after the Thunderbirds, who went 3-12-2 last year, play at Portland State. The Vikings are Montana’s travel partner this year.
The Grizzlies will play at Idaho State and Weber State, then return home to face Sacramento State and Northern Arizona before playing three road matches that should go a long way toward determining the 2017 Big Sky champion and whether the Grizzlies are in that mix.
Montana will play on Friday, Oct. 13, at Idaho, last year’s regular-season champion. The Vandals are 3-0 against the Grizzlies the last two seasons, with 10 goals scored.
That road trip continues with a match on Sunday, Oct. 15, at Eastern Washington, last year’s Big Sky tournament champion. The Eagles ended the Grizzlies’ season last November with a 1-0 win in the tournament quarterfinals at Cheney.
Montana will travel to Greeley the next week for a match at Northern Colorado, one of the other top programs in the Big Sky. The Bears won the conference tournament in 2015.
The Grizzlies will close the regular season with home matches against North Dakota and Portland State.
The six-team Big Sky tournament, which will be played at the home of the regular-season champion, will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 1, Friday, Nov. 3, and Sunday, Nov. 5, with the top two seeds getting byes to Friday’s semifinal round.
Montana has made the Big Sky tournament five times in six years under Plakorus. The Grizzlies won the tournament in 2011, lost in a shootout in the championship match in 2012 and hosted the tournament in 2014.