Volleyball: Griz Make it Two Straight, Win 3-1 over Sac State

By JOEL CARLSON | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ

One night after giving Jerry Wagner his 100th win, the Montana volleyball team put its coach on the road to 200 with a 3-1 victory over Sacramento State Saturday night at the West Auxiliary Gym in Missoula.

Capri Richardson had a career-high 20 kills and added a match-high eight blocks, and the Grizzlies (5-17 overall) evened their Big Sky Conference record at 5-5 with a 25-16, 25-21, 25-27, 25-23 victory over the Hornets.

One night after knocking off Portland State in an emotional five-set contest, a victory that snapped a 21-match losing streak to the Vikings, Montana showed no hangover. The Grizzlies hit .220 and won a match for the first time this season in fewer than five sets.

“We’re playing hard. That’s all there is to it. There wasn’t one second this entire weekend when the effort wasn’t great,” said Wagner.

“Coming off a five-set win the night before, it felt like we kept asking ourselves for more, and we were able to get it. We played like we were on a mission.”

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Photo by ©William Munoz for Make it Missoula

If that mission is to make the eight-team Big Sky Conference tournament in four weeks, the Grizzlies, who host two more matches next week, against Eastern Washington and Idaho, gave themselves a huge boost with their weekend sweep.

Montana is tied for fourth in the North Division and tied for sixth overall with only three more weeks of regular-season matches to be played.

Sacramento State (6-19, 1-9 BSC) picked up its first league win of the season Friday night at Montana State. On Saturday Montana quickly took away any hope the Hornets’ had of a road sweep. The Grizzlies hit .308 in the first two sets and put down 14 more kills than the Hornets to go up 2-0.

Montana opened a 16-12 lead in the third set and still led 20-18 before Sac State reeled off six straight points to give itself its first set point of the night.

With a small but raucous crowd aiding their rally, the Grizzlies scored five straight of their own to go up 25-24.

What followed was the point of the match, even if it did go Sacramento State’s way. Montana took four swings to win the match, but the Hornets dug them all before securing the point, then added two more to win 27-25 and pull within 2-1.

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Photo by ©William Munoz for Make it Missoula

A heartbreaker, but Montana out-hit Sac State in the fourth set, and freshman Janell Sparks, who had 13 for the match, had three kills in the final five points to deliver victory to the Grizzlies.

“After we didn’t pull out the (third-set) win, I didn’t see that uh-oh response,” said Wagner. “We’re starting to grow up in those situations and keep our composure to do the things we need to do.”

Montana had 13 more kills in the match than Sacramento State, but where the Grizzlies really shone was in their defense. They had 10.5 blocks and had 34 more digs than the Hornets had kills, a metric Wagner finds successful if it’s even one dig better than a 1:1 ratio.

Brielle Rolle, who has had 16 or more digs four of the last five matches, had a career-high 19 digs, while Sadie Ahearn had a career-high 17. Michelle Robinson’s offense has been off the last two weeks, but nothing else in her game is. She had 16 digs for the second straight night and added three blocks.

It gives Montana plenty of good to build on as it prepares for two more home matches next week.

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Photo by ©William Munoz for Make it Missoula

“I thought we were really consistent for eight of our nine sets this weekend,” said Wagner. “We played hard ,we played consistently, and we played with our head up.”

The Grizzlies will host the Eagles (9-14, 5-5 BSC) on Thursday and the Vandals (11-11, 7-3 BSC) on Saturday. Eastern Washington defeated Weber State 3-0 on Saturday night. Idaho saw its four-match winning streak come to an end with a 3-0 home loss to Idaho State.

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