LUBBOCK, Texas — Montana improved to 2-0 at the Lone Star Showdown and snapped Cal State Fullerton’s six-match winning streak with a 25-18, 25-19, 26-24 victory over the Titans Friday afternoon.
The win improves the Grizzlies to 3-5 and leaves them a victory over 1-6 Nevada on Saturday from claiming the program’s first in-season tournament since winning a title at Maine in 2005.
For the second straight match the Grizzlies effectively shut down the opposing team’s offense. Fullerton, which was hitting better than .200 entering the match, was limited to .113 hitting by a suddenly rock-solid Griz defense that had allowed its opponents to hit .272 through the season’s first six matches.
And Montana added a dynamic offense that was almost as impressive. The Grizzlies hit .230, a performance that started with the back-line serve reception of seniors Kayla Reno and Megan Murphey and redshirt freshman Sadie Ahearn, who gave up just a single service ace for the second straight match.
“Our hitting starts with first contact, and that’s Kayla, Megan and Sadie,” said UM coach Jerry Wagner.
“They are spot on with their passing, and (senior setter) Kortney (James) is doing a nice job finding hitters in the right matchups. Our passing is allowing her to do that. Everybody is just locked in.”
Montana played mostly error-free volleyball to win the opening two sets. The Grizzlies went up 2-0 by having just six attack errors to the Titans’ 19.
But the Grizzlies still needed a key rally in set three to pull off the sweep. Fullerton built leads of 20-13 and 23-17 before James and Montana took over.
James made it 23-18 with a kill and then went back to serve. By the time she was done, the set was tied 23-23. Starting the run were senior Brooke Bray and junior Natalie Jones, who blocked CSF’s Alyse Hensley on back-to-back points. Jones and Reno then put down kills to draw the teams even at 23-23.
The Titans had the first set point after a Bre Moreland kill, but a bad set evened the score once again. Freshman Claire McCown had a kill to make it 25-24, and Reno ended the match with a service ace.
“Kortney hit the target on her serves to get them off-balance, and we had a couple of key blocks on a player that had been doing well for them, and that turned things around for us,” Wagner said.
The back-to-back wins are the first for Montana since the middle of last October.
Bray led Montana on offense with 11 kills on .558 hitting. Wagner opted to start redshirt sophomore Capri Richardson opposite Bray, and Richardson came through with seven kills on .357 hitting and a team-high five blocks, though she was relieved late in set three by Jones.
The Grizzlies’ outside hitters were mostly held in check, but they all contributed defensively. Reno, McCown and junior Kelsey Schile each had three blocks to help Montana more than double Fullerton in that area, 11-5.
In its six-set sweep Friday, Montana held Texas Tech and Cal State Fullerton to .118 hitting, out-blocked the Red Raiders and Titans 19-9 and gave up just two service aces, one in each match. All while the Grizzlies were hitting .208.
“The key phrase of the day: complete effort,” Wagner said. “That was as complete a day as you could ask for.”
Montana will take on Nevada Saturday at 11:30 a.m. (MT).
— Montana Sports Information