Griz spikers open in Virginia

The Montana volleyball team will open its 2013 season this week when the Grizzlies travel to Charlottesville, Va., for Virginia’s four-team tournament. Montana will face James Madison, Marshall and the host Cavaliers over the course of Friday and Saturday.

Montana will play James Madison on Friday at 2:30 p.m. (MT) and Marshall at 8 a.m. (MT) and Virginia at 5 p.m. (MT) on Saturday at UVA’s Memorial Gymnasium (744).

Coverage: Virginia will offer live stats of all six tournament matches. The links to live stats for Montana’s three matches can be found on the volleyball schedule page at

Montana at a glance: The Grizzlies return four starters plus their libero from last year’s team that went 6-23 and finished in a tie for 10th with a 4-16 league mark in the 11-team Big Sky Conference. Four of those five key returners are seniors and all five are upperclassmen.

Headlining the returning starters is senior middle blocker Brooke Bray, a second-team All-Big Sky Conference selection as a junior who hit .338 and averaged 1.26 blocks in 2012. Also back is senior outside hitter Kayla Reno, voted second-team All-Big Sky two seasons ago as a sophomore.

Other returning starters are senior setter Kortney James and junior right-side hitter/setter Kelsey Schile. Megan Murphey, a senior libero, is back from a knee injury that caused her to miss the final seven matches of the 2012 season and all of the team’s spring practices.

Eighth-year coach Jerry Wagner brought in a five-player freshman class, and three of them will play in 2013: setter Raegan Lindsey, of Highland, Utah, right-side hitter Michelle Robinson, of Honolulu, Hawaii, and outside hitter Claire McCown, of Spice Wood, Texas.

Outside hitter Tess Hellerud and defensive specialist Brielle Rolle will redshirt this season.

More on James Madison: The Dukes, who have just a single senior, will be a young, largely inexperienced team at the start of 2013. JMU returns just three starters, and its personnel losses were heavy. Gone are the team’s starting setter from 2012, plus a four-time All-Colonial Athletic Association outside hitter and another two-time All-CAA outside hitter.

James Madison went 13-16 last season and tied for fifth in the CAA with a 5-7 league record. The Dukes advanced to the CAA tournament semifinals last November as the No. 6 seed before falling to No. 2 Delaware in four sets.

Preseason: James Madison was picked fifth in the eighth-team Colonial Athletic Association preseason coaches’ poll, coming in behind College of Charleston, Northeastern, Delaware and Hofstra.

Coming in sixth in the poll was Towson. As a gauge, Montana defeated Towson in five sets last year at the Grizzlies’ home tournament, and Towson won at James Madison later in the season, also in five sets.

History: Montana and James Madison have never met.

More on Marshall: The Thundering Herd is the only team in the tournament field that was over .500 last season, and MU returns five starters plus its libero from that team. Most important for Marshall is that it returns senior outside hitter Laura Der, a first-team All-Conference USA selection last season, who posted some sick numbers in 2012 (4.39 kills/set, 3.05 digs/set, 37 service aces).

The Herd, which during one stretch last season won 13 out of 14 matches and also went on a seven-match losing streak, finished 18-13 in 2012 and finished sixth out of 12 teams in Conference USA at 8-8. Marshall lost to No. 3 Central Florida in four sets in the Conference USA quarterfinals.

Preseason: Marshall was picked eighth in the Conference USA preseason poll in a league that has been increased to 15 teams. Teams earning first-place votes and finishing in front of Marshall in the poll were Rice, Tulsa, Texas-San Antonio, North Texas and Middle Tennessee.

History: Montana holds a 1-0 advantage in previous matchups against Marshall. The Grizzlies defeated the Herd in four sets in UM’s 2003 season opener at Indiana State’s tournament.

More on Virginia: The host Cavaliers went 9-22 a year ago and finished last in the ACC with a 3-17 league record, but their fortunes are likely going to change. And fast.

After the 2011 season Virginia brought in coach Dennis Hohenshelt, who had previously been an assistant for six years at Penn State, including during the Nittany Lions’ run of four straight national championships between 2007 and 2010.

Virginia signed six true freshmen this season and added a sophomore transfer from Arizona, and has just a single senior.

Preseason: Virginia was picked 11th out of 15 teams in the expanded ACC, ahead of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, both ACC newcomers, and Boston College and Wake Forest.

History: Virginia defeated Montana in 1996 in four sets in the teams’ only other meeting at Pittsburgh’s tournament.

Upcoming: Montana will play its second of three pre-Big Sky Conference tournaments when the Grizzlies travel next week to Washington State to face Texas Tech, South Dakota and the host Cougars.

Montana will play at Texas Tech’s tournament Sept. 13-14 before hosting Northern Colorado and North Dakota in the Grizzlies’ home and Big Sky openers Sept. 20-21.

— UM Sports Information

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