MISSOULA — New twists to the Big Sky Conference league schedule, a massive home tournament and three matches against Montana State await the Montana volleyball team on the 2020 schedule.
Announcing its finalized volleyball schedule, the Grizzlies will have to deal with unique challenges and changes due to COVID-19. Montana opens at home against Oregon State on Friday, Aug. 28, the first time the Grizzlies have started the season in Missoula since 2014.
"We recognize that things can still change, and we're prepared to adapt to those potential changes, but we're also hopeful and excited that we will get a 2020 season," head coach Allison Lawrence said in a release announcing the schedule. "It's really fun to see the schedule that we have planned, and it's a reminder and motivator for us throughout the summer."
The opener against Oregon State will be the first time the Beavers have come to Missoula since 1992. UM volleyball has not played Oregon State since 1998.
Montana will also play Gonzaga as part of a tournament between the three teams. Gonzaga and Oregon State will also play each other during the weekend tournament.
Lawrence played for the Beavers from 2001-04 as an outside hitter. She ranks in the top-10 all-time at Oregon State in kills, digs and service aces.
"I love that we can bring big-name opponents to our home gym," Lawrence said in a release. "It gives us a challenge against strong, regional teams, while also giving our fans a high-level volleyball experience. I'm proud that we can put on a tournament like this, for both our players and our fans."
It is the third season in a row UM and Gonzaga will play. Montana is 29-17 all-time against the Bulldogs.
Montana will then travel to tournaments hosted by Chicago State and North Dakota. Along with Chicago State, the tournament in the Windy City will pit the Grizzlies against Eastern Illinois and Butler.
The tournament in Grand Forks includes North Dakota, Lamar and Drake. Montana will then end its non-conference slate with a date in Bozeman against the Bobcats.
Because the volleyball schedule is set up to reduce costs, a massive change to the conference slate was added — back-to-back home matches during Big Sky play. While Montana does play Montana State twice in Big Sky play next season, both dates are in Missoula.
The non-conference date was added to give Montana State a home match against Montana.
The Grizzlies home conference opponents will be Weber State (Oct. 2-3), Montana State (Oct. 15-16), Idaho (Oct. 29-30) and Sacramento State (Nov. 19-20). Montana's road trips are to Idaho State (Sept. 24-25), Southern Utah (Oct. 9-10), Eastern Washington (Oct. 22-23) and Portland State (Nov. 6-7).
"I think fans will see fewer predictable outcomes because a lot more is up in the air when you play a team on back-to-back nights," Lawrence said in the release. "It's something we've never had to account for before, but things like fatigue, roster depth, preparation and mental toughness will be tested in new ways. I think that will be exciting, and will teach us a new way to prepare, and new way to respond to both winning and losing."
Northern Colorado and Northern Arizona do not appear on the Grizzlies' regular-season schedule. UM has played NAU at least once per season since 1987.
The league schedule was trimmed from 18 games to 16. The postseason tournament, which will be held from Nov. 24-25 in Greeley, Colorado, was also cut from eight teams to four.
Montana has made the tournament each of the past two seasons and was the No. 8 seed a year ago.
"The experience of chasing that goal and fighting to make it for the third year in a row has as much meaning as ever for us," Lawrence said in the release "After all of the chaos and unknown, and a lost spring season, we're grateful to have these dates on the calendar to look forward to."