Volleyball: Griz Win Third Straight, Down Eagles 3-1 (PHOTO GALLERY)

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com | Photos by WILLIAM MUNOZ

Montana had its best offensive outing of the season, hitting .385, and finally slowed down Eastern Washington enough to post a 20-25, 25-23, 25-20, 25-16 victory over the Eagles Thursday night at the West Auxiliary Gym in Missoula.

Sophomore outside hitter Claire McCown and freshman outside hitter Janell Sparks both had 15 kills, reigning Big Sky Conference Player of the Week Capri Richardson totaled 12 kills on .611 hitting plus a match-high eight blocks, and the Grizzlies (6-17, 6-5 BSC) won their third straight match.

Montana was fantastic offensively from the start, but the match did not swing the Grizzlies’ way until the other areas of the game caught up to it.

Eastern Washington (9-15, 5-6 BSC) hit better than .400 in two of three sets two weeks ago when the Eagles swept the Grizzlies at Cheney. That continued in the early going Thursday night.

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UM Volleyball vs Eastern Washington. Photo by ©William Munoz for Make it Missoula

Montana was almost flawless offensively in the opening set, finishing with 16 kills and just two errors on 30 swings to hit .467. The problem was Eastern Washington had 20 kills on .486 hitting, and the Eagles pulled away for a 25-20 win.

“Obviously I was happy with our offense, but even though we were playing well, there were four areas that weren’t where they needed to be. Our serving, our passing and our block and defense,” said Wagner.

Slowly those came along, and Montana never let up offensively. The Grizzlies hit .310 or better all four sets thanks to senior setter Kelsey Schile and sophomore setter Raegan Lindsey, who put their hitters in advantageous situations all match long.

McCown had double-digit kills for the third straight match, Sparks finished one kill off her season high, and sophomore Michelle Robinson added nine kills on .304 hitting and four blocks.

Montana pulled out a two-point win in a back-and-forth second set that had 15 ties, and the Grizzlies mostly led throughout sets three and four.

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UM Volleyball vs Eastern Washington. Photo by ©William Munoz for Make it Missoula

“In the second set the only thing that came along was our serving, but that was enough. And then I thought we brought the blocking and defense all the way back,” said Wagner.

“All four things had to come around from the first set to the fourth set, and every one did. We did nothing but get better and better and better.”

Montana had four blocks in the final set while limiting EWU to .074 hitting, and redshirt freshman Brielle Rolle finished with 16 digs, the fifth time in six matches the libero has reached at least 16.

Six different players had service aces as Montana matched a season high with eight.

Kelsey Julian had a match-high 16 kills on .448 hitting to lead Eastern Washington, which dropped a game behind Montana in the Big Sky North Division.

Montana will take its three-match winning streak into a stretch of four games that now looks more like an opportunity than anything else.

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UM Volleyball vs Eastern Washington. Photo by ©William Munoz for Make it Missoula

North Division leaders Idaho, Northern Colorado and North Dakota, which all won Thursday night on the road, are 8-3 in league and two games up on Montana. The Grizzlies will host the Vandals Saturday, then play at UNC and UND next week.

Montana will host South Division leader Idaho State in two weeks before wrapping up the regular season at home against Montana State.

“I just love the improvement this team has made, and I think they’ve readied themselves for the challenges ahead,” said Wagner.

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