MISSOULA — Montana is back in the Big Sky Conference tournament for the third time in four seasons, after missing the tournament in three consecutive seasons from 2015-17.
It marks just the third time since the turn of the century that the Grizzlies have qualified for the tournament three times in a four-year span (2006-09 and 2008-10).
After being picked to finish last in the Big Sky preseason coaches' poll, Montana finished three spots ahead of its preseason ranking, playing this week as the No. 8 seed. In all four fall seasons under head coach Allison Lawrence, Montana has finished ahead of its preseason ranking every season.
This fall, Montana was as close to fourth place as it was to last place, playing as the No. 8 seed but finishing three full matches ahead of the ninth-place team.
Montana is back in the conference tournament after missing it during the spring season, but the next step for the program is to win and advance in the tournament. The Grizzlies' last tournament win came in 2013 (quarterfinals vs. Northern Arizona), their only tournament win in the past 25 seasons (since 1997).
Montana is playing as the No. 8 seed for the second time (the Grizzlies took No. 1 Northern Colorado to four sets in 2019) and will look to become the first Big Sky team to ever upset the top-seeded team as the No. 8 seed.
The challenge becomes even harder considering who Montana is going up against. Weber State is not only the No. 1 seed, but the Wildcats will be playing on their home court, where they have won 21 consecutive matches dating back to 2019.
Playing against the top seed in a conference tournament is never easy, but especially when the team is playing on its home court, as Weber State will be doing on Thursday. Making matters even more challenging, the Wildcats haven't lost at home since October 2019, a 25-match home winning streak that currently leads the nation.
Weber State won the Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament titles during the spring season, before winning a match in the NCAA tournament over Bowling Green. The Wildcats were the favorites to repeat as champions – and did – now entering the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Weber State features Big Sky Player of the Year Dani Nay, who leads the league and ranks second nationally for service aces, while also ranking fourth in the Big Sky for kills. Joining Nay is a star-studded lineup of three other first-team All-Big Sky selections.
Two-time first-team selection Rylin Adams – the 2020 MVP – leads the Big Sky with 3.78 kills per set. Teammate Sam Schiess is the top attacker, at .328, while Ashlyn Power earned her third first-team all-conference nod after ranking third in the league with 9.31 assists per set. Power also ranks fourth in the Big Sky for service aces.
As a team, Weber State leads the Big Sky for opponent hitting (.137) and service aces (2.36 per set, fifth in NCAA), while ranking third for hitting (.227) and digs (15.91 per set).
Weber State has gone 81-29 (.736) over the past four seasons, winning back-to-back Big Sky regular-season titles. After missing the Big Sky tournament in each of his first three seasons, Jeremiah Larsen has steadily moved up the Big Sky standings, qualifying for the tournament for the first time in 2018, coming within two points of winning it all in 2019, before claiming the title in the Spring 2021 season and playing as the No. 1 seed this fall.
Match time is set for 7 p.m., Thursday night in Ogden.