MISSOULA — Missoula Sentinel grad Sarina Moreno piled up a team-high 10 digs in helping the Montana volleyball team post one of its biggest home wins of the season over Sacramento State Saturday, 25-23, 25-17, 25-21. 

The result was sweet for head coach Allison Lawrence and her troops, but just as gratifying was how the Grizzlies pulled off the sweep. 

In the first set, Montana closed late in a tight battle, winning a battle that featured 11 tie scores. After the two teams were tied at 18-18, Montana fell behind by three, 21-18, before scoring seven of the final nine points to gain the early upper-hand. 

The second set was all Montana, with the Grizzlies jumping out to an 11-4 lead and never letting the Hornets get closer than three points. 

In the third set, Montana showed its fortitude, falling behind by four points on several occasions before using a 6-0 scoring run — which extended to 8-1 — to turn an 11-8 deficit into a 16-12 lead. Sacramento State crept back within a point, but every time the Hornets closed the gap, the Grizzlies had a response, eventually winning the set 25-21. 

"We've been so close so many times this year, so our mentality tonight wasn't to change anything drastic, but to look to our chemistry, focus and determination to find a couple more points," Lawrence said. "To have a crowd like we did that was loud and supportive, it gave us that extra little boost in those tight moments." 

Montana also won as a collective group, with five players totaling between seven and 11 kills. The Griz were led by junior Jackie Howell, who posted a career-high-tying 11 kills on .333 hitting. Howell had six of her 11 kills in the first set – in which she hit .500 and recorded the final two points of the frame. She also had the final kill of the night, putting away the Hornets on a second-chance effort. 

"Jackie really managed her game well," Lawrence said. "Her passing and defense were so unbelievable, and she came up with some crafty kills in moments that got us out of trouble and gave us the confidence that we could scrap to win." 

As a team, Montana hit .284 and improved its hitting percentage each set. The Grizzlies were also dominant from the service line, recording five aces without being aced once. It marked the first time in 209 matches that the Grizzlies went an entire match without being aced. 

Montana also prevented long runs from Sacramento State, siding out better than 62 percent in all three sets. 

"As well as we've been attacking, the real piece of the match was that we controlled serving and passing," Lawrence said. "When we control first contact on serve-receive, and dig a lot of balls under control, it puts Carly (Anderson) in a spot where she can run her offense. 

"I'm so proud and impressed by Jackie, Elsa (Godwin, Sentinel grad), Sarina (Moreno) and Sarah (Ashley). Their courage to continue developing in serve-receive is giving our team a lot of confidence, and it's working." 

The opening set was tight throughout, with neither team being able to find separation. In fact, neither team ever led by more than three points. Montana held several leads, including at 12-10, before the Hornets began to take some momentum. 

A Howell kill tied the score at 18-18 before Sacramento State got two kills and a block to go up 21-18. The Grizzlies were nails down the stretch, though, scoring seven of the final nine points — getting an ace from Moreno and kills from Scherffius, Clark and Howell (two) — to win the set. 

"We've been so close and in so many tight sets, the one thing we've been talking about a lot is finding two points," Lawrence said. "To get to the end and stick together and have people step up and make aggressive, key plays, was really big." 

The win came on a night the Grizzlies celebrated the 30-year anniversary of Montana's first Big Sky Conference championship. More than a dozen former players were on hand over the weekend, including several from the 1991 squad that went 16-0 in Big Sky play and advanced to its second consecutive NCAA tournament. 

Saturday's win was just Montana's second in its past nine meetings with Sacramento State, and the Grizzlies' first home sweep over the Hornets since 2010. Sacramento State was selected to finish fifth in the preseason coaches' poll. 

Montana is now 2-2 over its past four matches, with the two defeats coming in five sets in matches that the Grizzlies felt they could have won. Montana is now set to embark on the second half of conference play, beginning at Southern Utah on Thursday and Northern Arizona Saturday.

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