Montana volleyball: Grizzlies shock Bengals, advance to Big Sky championship

Montana is returning to the Big Sky Championship, punching its ticket with a road win at Idaho State on Saturday night (25-21, 21-25, 26-24, 25-20).

Entering the night, Montana needed to either win or have Idaho beat Southern Utah in order to clinch a berth. The Vandals did the Griz a favor, sweeping the Thunderbirds, but it turns out the Grizzlies didn’t need it, taking matters into their own hands.

“I feel like we played with so much pride tonight, not only for us but for the history of this program,” second-year head coach Allison Lawrence said. “We drew on all of our ups and downs and really went for it, and I’m so proud of this team.”

Beating Idaho State on its senior night was a tall task. The Bengals were riding a six-match winning streak, and were looking to ride momentum into next week’s conference tournament. Instead it will be the Grizzlies with the momentum, winning two of their final three matches down the stretch to earn a postseason invitation for the first time since 2014.

With the win, Montana not only fought off Southern Utah but also passed Montana State and will play as the No. 7 seed next week in Greeley.

The Grizzlies trailed the opening set Saturday night 17-12 before closing on a 13-4 run to take the early advantage. Idaho State evened the match with a 25-21 victory in the second set.

The two teams were locked in a tight battle in the third set before the Grizzlies scored four straight points to go up 14-10. ISU would fight back and even take multiple one-point leads, but could never make it a two-point advantage. That proved to be the difference, as Montana fought off a set point with a Mykaela Hammer kill. The Bengals had an attack error on the next play, and Hammer finished the set with another kill.

Idaho State took a 6-2 lead to begin the fourth set, and then it was all Grizzlies. Montana used a 7-1 run to take the lead and never trailed for the remainder of the match, leading by as many as six.

“I thought this might have been our best match of the season,” Lawrence said. “We played relaxed, we were loose and we were in control the whole time. Our serve-receive was so resilient and confident and aggressive, and from there, we knew we could score.”

Match Notes

  • Montana had a season-most 11 service aces, including six by freshman Olivia Bradley. Trailing 6-2 in Set 4, Montana went on a 5-0 run, including three consecutive aces by Bradley. The middle blocker also had three kills and three blocks.
  • Seniors Alexis Urbach (15 kills), Hammer (14) and Cassie Laramee (nine) led the Griz offense, accounting for more than 70 percent of the team’s kills.
  • Ashley Watkins had a double-double with 39 assists and 13 digs, in addition to five blocks and three kills. She now has more than 2,500 career assists (sixth in UM history).
  • Baily Permann, a Pocatello native who sealed the match with a kill, had eight kills on .500 hitting, in addition to a career-high-tying eight blocks.
  • As a team, Montana posted double-digit blocks (11.0) for the ninth time this season and first time since Oct. 11.
  • The 2018 season has been special in many ways. Entering the tournament, Montana has 10 overall victories, seven Big Sky wins, five home wins and four true road victories. All of those are the most by the program since 2013.

Quoting Lawrence
(on her reaction when the match was complete)
“My head went blank and I let out some kind of yell. I yelled for our team, and it came from somewhere deep down. I love to celebrate in those moments and love showing our emotions. It was such an emotional win and I was just so proud of this group. They deserve this.”

(on her team’s serving)
“The way we served had Idaho State on their heels from the beginning of the match. We were aggressive, and how about Olivia? She was incredible.”

(on the potential of this team)
“When we all individually do our job and show up in big ways for each other and rely on each other for energy, I think we’re capable of so much. I’ve had so many people tell me throughout the season that we look like a top tournament team and that we look like we can play with anybody. That’s been the most frustrating part about this season. We don’t always see that in ourselves or execute at that level, but we’re growing.”

(on the growth of this program)
“Beyond what this means, it’s just so wonderful for this group to love playing together. There is a certain feeling when a team really has joy competing and fighting together. We’ve been trying to establish it and now maintain it for two years, and we’re really learning how that bonds us in ways that just wins don’t.”

Up Next
Montana will travel to Greeley, Colo., for the 2018 Big Sky Championship. The Grizzlies will play as the No. 7 seed and face No. 2 Idaho in the quarterfinals (Thursday at 4:30 p.m.).