Montana volleyball team continues breakout season with win at Idaho State | UM Grizzlies

The Montana volleyball team’s breakthrough season continued Thursday with a win at Idaho State in four sets, 25-17, 25-22, 23-25, 25-16.

The Grizzlies improved to 10-5 in the Big Sky Conference game and 17-10 overall. It’s the most wins for a Montana team in the 2000s.

Montana has won six of its last seven games before Saturday’s regular season finale at Weber State. The Grizzlies have a shot at taking second place in the conference with a win.

Thursday’s win came thanks to three dominant offensive sets played by a setter who found her groove. Carly Anderson had her fifth 50-assist match of the season, but this time in just four sets after needing five sets in the previous four.

The junior contributed to the offense with three kills herself, but perhaps her most notable performance came on the service line. Montana won the opening set but was down 18-10 in the second. Then Anderson got on the service line. By the time she left, the Grizzlies had a 20-18 lead. The turnaround won the set and maybe the match for Montana.

“I think she played a really smart game,” said UM coach Allison Lawrence. “We hit such good clips in the first, second and fourth. I was impressed with their game. It’s hard to see her in the stats, but she had a big serve in the second. She ultimately made us win that set. I just thought she played really well.

The night was almost historic, too, as libero Sarina Moreno, a Sentinel graduate, again led the Grizzly defense with 18 breakouts. The redshirt veteran is now just nine steps away from Montana’s all-time record and seems poised to break the mark in Saturday’s game, having entered it by double-digit steps in the past 13 games.

In an 8-tie early in the final set, Montana grabbed kills from Catie Semadeni and Jackie Howell and an ace from Sarah Ashley to gain some momentum in a 4-0 run.

Then Anderson, Paige Clark and Elise Jolly each got some kills, which was really a team effort for five straight points, making it 9 of the last 10 in Montana’s favour. That opened up a 17-9 lead, and this time the Grizzlies didn’t let them slip like they did in the third set.

“I thought it was just a great team effort. I think we stepped up and were playmakers when we needed it and I just couldn’t be prouder of them,” Lawrence said.

The Grizzlies finished the set strong, and back-to-back kills from Semadeni finished it 25-16. It sealed the win of the season against the Bengals and gave Montana double-digit Big Sky wins for the first time since 2013. The 17 overall wins are the most since the team’s 18-9 win in 1999.

It sets up an interesting Saturday as four teams are currently battling for second place in Big Sky. They all play each other over the next two days, starting with Portland State and Sacramento State on Friday night. Montana and Weber State will then go head to head on Saturday, with the Grizzlies knowing where they can potentially land in the standings.

A win for the Grizzlies would put them in second place with the Vikings-Hornets winner. It would be Montana’s highest result in Big Sky scoring since they shared the title in the 1994 season, a year in which they went 25-6 and won an NCAA tournament game. It would also be the first postseason match against Montana State since the Grizzlies defeated the Bobcats in the 1996 tournament.

One loss for Montana and they would share fourth place in the conference and play the loser of the Portland State-Sacramento State game in the first round of the league tournament. It’s a moment that might be a little alien to Montana volleyball, but one that Lawrence and her team are tackling with full strides. They’ve enjoyed every minute of this season and feel like they’re trending at just the right time.

“The last one is great. I love it. I love being in this situation where we feel good and very confident,” Lawrence said. “We add levels to our game every week. We’ve also secured such a solid place in the conference and tournament that we can go really hungry on Saturday to see what we can do. I think we’re feeling really good and we’re playing our best volleyball at the moment.”