SOCCER: Montana Hosting Big Sky Tournament This Week

By JOEL CARLSON for GoGriz.com

Montana will host the Big Sky Conference soccer tournament this week at South Campus Stadium. Matches will be played Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

After 17 years as a four-team tournament, this year’s will feature six teams, with two quarterfinal matches Thursday, two semifinals on Friday and the championship match on Sunday. The No. 1 and 2 seeds — Montana and Portland State — earned byes into the semifinal round.

No. 3 Northern Arizona (9-5-4, 5-2-3 BSC) will face No. 6 Eastern Washington (8-8-0, 5-5-0 BSC) at 11 a.m. Thursday in the opening quarterfinal. The Eagles won the teams’ regular-season meeting at Flagstaff, Ariz., on Oct. 19 by a score of 1-0.

No. 4 Northern Colorado (10-8-2, 5-4-1 BSC) will play No. 5 Idaho State (8-8-1, 5-4-1 BSC) in the second quarterfinal Thursday at 2 p.m. The Bears defeated the Bengals 2-1 at Pocatello, Idaho, on Oct. 5 on a goal with 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

UM Soccer

Photo by ©William Munoz for Make itMissoula

No. 2 Portland State (9-5-4, 6-2-2 BSC), which is playing in its eighth consecutive Big Sky tournament, the longest active streak in the league, will play the winner of the first quarterfinal Friday at 11 a.m. The Vikings played to a 1-1 draw at NAU in September and won 3-1 at home over Eastern Washington.

No. 1 Montana (12-5-2, 8-0-2 BSC), which hasn’t lost a match since Sept. 21 to Hawaii, will play the winner of the UNC-ISU match in the second semifinal Friday at 2 p.m. The Grizzlies defeated Northern Colorado 1-0 and Idaho State 3-1 during the regular season, both at South Campus Stadium.

The semifinal winners will play Sunday at noon in the championship match. The winner of that game will be the Big Sky Conference’s representative at the NCAA tournament.

What everyone’s playing for: The selection show for the NCAA tournament will air on NCAA.com Monday at 2:30 p.m. (MT).

If you can make it: Gates open each day one hour before the start of the first match. Tickets are available at the gate. Tickets for Thursday and Friday are $5 for adults and $3 for youth 12 and younger. For Sunday’s championship match, tickets are $8 and $5. College students get in free with school ID.

If you can’t make it: All five matches will have free video coverage at WatchBigSky.BigSkyConf.com. GoGriz.com will offer live stats.

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Photo by ©William Munoz for Make itMissoula

 

Tournament storylines

1. The Big Sky Conference tournament is back in Missoula for the first time since 2000. Montana hosted three of the first four league tournaments — in 1997, ’98 and ’00 — and now it’s back after a 13-year dry spell.

In those 13 interim seasons, Weber State hosted four times, Idaho State and Portland State three times and Sacramento State, Northern Arizona and Northern Colorado one time.

2. Montana is playing in the tournament for the third time under fourth-year coach Mark Plakorus. The Grizzlies, as the No. 4 seed, won the 2011 tournament and, as the No. 3 seed, lost in the championship match of the 2012 tournament.

The Grizzlies are technically unbeaten in their four tournament matches under Plakorus at 1-0-3.

Montana won the 2011 tournament with shootout victories over Northern Colorado and Weber State. In 2012 the Grizzlies defeated Portland State 3-2 in the semifinals and lost in a shootout to Idaho State in the championship match.

All three shootouts are ties in the record book.

“The girls are just excited to still be playing,” said Plakorus, “because last year we didn’t get to play in the tournament. They’re looking forward to playing Friday and excited that the next phase of our season is here.”

3. Montana is making its 13th appearance in the 18-year history of the Big Sky tournament, which matches Weber State for the league lead. The Grizzlies won tournament titles 1997, 1999 and 2000, all at home, and the 2011 championship at Greeley, Colo.

Montana has a tournament record of 10-6-4.

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Photo by ©William Munoz for Make itMissoula

4. Hosting the soccer tournament does not come with the home-field advantage that one might think. In the last six years, only one host — Idaho State in 2012 — has won the tournament. Since 2000, only five teams that have hosted have won the tournament.

“I think a big part of it is that the teams in this conference are so close that the margin for error just isn’t very big,” said Plakorus. “And I don’t think there is as much of a home-field advantage for soccer as there is for other sports, like basketball, where fans can have more of an influence on the game.”

5. It’s a small sample size and the matches happened (relative to soccer in the Big Sky) a long time ago, but Montana has not lost a Big Sky tournament match at home. The Grizzlies went 2-0 in 1997, ’98 and ’00 while outscoring their opponents 17-2. But it was a different league back then.

Montana is 6-1 at home this season, 5-0 against Big Sky opponents. The Grizzlies allowed just a single goal in those five matches.

6. Expect some shootouts this week. The last three championship matches have been decided in a shootout, and six of the nine matches at the last three tournaments have been decided by shootout.

“You can mimic and practice shootouts all you want in practice, but until you’re standing over the ball in an actual shootout with that type of pressure, it’s not going to be the same,” said Plakorus. “It just comes down to players handling the moment.”

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Photo by ©William Munoz for Make itMissoula

7. New to the tournament for the first time: back-to-back games Thursday and Friday for the winners of the two quarterfinal matches. It’s something teams rarely do during the regular season.

While it might not show on Friday, when Portland State and Montana host Thursday’s quarterfinal winners, it might by Sunday if a team is playing for the third time in four days.

“I’m not sure it’s really going to matter,” said Plakorus. “When it comes to postseason tournaments, the players’ excitement and energy level will overcome anything else.

“I don’t think people give enough credit to young athletes for their passion and their drive and their heart. None of that can be measured, and it overcomes a lot of physical things.”
8. Can Portland State and seventh-year PSU coach Laura Schott finally break through? In the program’s seven seasons under Schott, Portland State has never finished lower than second in the regular-season standings, but the Vikings have just a single tournament win during that time.

PSU is making its 11th tournament appearance, second only to Montana and Weber State’s 13. In its first 10 postseason trips, the Vikings have just two wins and eight times bowed out in the semifinals in their first tournament match.

For and Against

The case for Montana: The Grizzlies went 8-0-2 through its league schedule and outscored its Big Sky opponents 19-4. No team scored more goals, no team allowed fewer goals.

The case against Montana: See storyline No. 4 above. Despite the seemingly inherent advantage of playing at home, that edge more often than not is not playing out in the soccer tournament.

The case for Portland State: Since losing 1-0 to Montana back on Oct. 5, the Vikings have been rolling. PSU is 5-0-1 in its last six matches, with just two goals allowed.

The case against Portland State: See storyline No. 8 above. PSU has a Big Sky tournament record of 2-8-2 and has advanced to just a single championship match since 2002.

The case for Northern Arizona: Natalie Gilbertson has a season goals-against average of 0.52, by far the best average in the Big Sky.

The case against Northern Arizona: The Lumberjacks lack balance offensively. Haley Wingender has scored 10 goals, nearly half of the team’s 21 for the season. Compare with the top two seeds’ leading scorers: Montana’s Hallie Widner has seven of the Grizzlies’ 31 goals, Portland State’s Tamia Hasan has four of the Vikings’ 20.

The case for Northern Colorado: The Bears have great offensive balance. UNC has four players with four or more goals this year, more than any other team in the tournament.

The case against Northern Colorado: Tournament games are usually tight, and the Bears are 1-3 in their last four matches decided by a single goal.

The case for Idaho State: Amanda Ellsworth (13 goals) and Maria Sanchez (7 goals) give the Bengals the top 1-2 scoring punch in the tournament.

The case against Idaho State: The Bengals have allowed 38 goals (2.17/g) this season. Of the other five tournament teams, Northern Colorado’s 22 goals allowed is the next highest total.

The case for Eastern Washington: The Eagles are an easy three-hour bus trip from the tournament site. Quarterfinal opponent Northern Arizona will be coming off a long day of travel Wednesday and will be the only tournament team not getting day-before practice at South Campus Stadium.

The case against Eastern Washington: The Eagles are 1-4 this season against the other teams in the tournament.

Montana Sports Information