MISSOULA — The Montana volleyball opened Big Sky Conference play on Thursday night with a thrilling 3-2 victory at Northern Arizona, 23-25, 14-25, 25-17, 30-28, 15-7.

NAU, perennially a Big Sky contender and a team that has won more than 80 percent of its home matches over the past decade, has been a tough team for any opponent to beat. Particularly for Montana, though, which had not beat the Lumberjacks at all since 2013 and hadn't won in Flagstaff since 2010.

"We knew we were the underdogs," UM coach Allison Lawrence said. "Based off of history, preseason rankings and just the home-court advantage that NAU has and the way the ball moves here at elevation, this is a hard team to play and a hard place to play."

Through two sets, it looked as if the Rolle Activity Center would remain a house of horrors for the Grizzlies.

Montana played well enough offensively to win the first set, but NAU played a touch better, winning 25-22. The Grizzlies were no match for the Lumberjacks in the second set, falling 25-14. NAU took a 4-1 lead early in Set 3 and it looked as if Montana would have a quick trip back to the hotel.

The Grizzlies, who also fell into an 0-2 hole last Saturday at Charleston Southern before completing a reverse sweep to cap their best non-conference record in 17 years, showed that they can be resilient.

The list of individual accolades was lengthy, as several Grizzlies played a part in the win. Paige Clark led the Grizzlies with 19 kills, Elise Jolly had 15 kills and four blocks and Catie Semadeni totaled 14 kills on .444 hitting. One match after recording a career-high 58 assists, Carly Anderson – the Big Sky Conference Player of the Week – totaled 54, in addition to four kills and three blocks.

Jolly came up biggest in the fifth set, where she totaled four of her kills, but Lawrence was particularly impressed by Semadeni, who had her best performance of the season.

"With the preseason she had, we knew that teams might key in on Ellie (Scherffius, who ranks second in the Big Sky with a .355 hitting percentage)," Lawrence said. "They did, and I thought Catie did a phenomenal job of scoring in huge moments for us and helping lift some of that weight.

"I think when Catie got kills, it just gave confidence to so many other hitters, as well. They fed off of her."

As strong as NAU started offensively, hitting .395 in Set 1 and .353 in Set 2, the Grizzlies ended up out-hitting the Lumberjacks for the match. NAU hit just .116 in Set 3, .153 in Set 4 and -.100 in the fifth set.

Lawrence couldn't have been prouder of Montana's back-row defenders, who out-dug NAU by 10 (83 to 73). Sarina Moreno totaled 21 digs, Howell added 17, junior Sarah Ashley recorded 14 and freshman Lexi Batezel chipped in with seven. All four came up huge in crucial moments, particularly in a tight fourth set.

"Sarina played great, Jackie had some monster kills at really big moments, Sarah was really, really good – particularly in the fourth set – and I thought Lexi did some things that saved points for us," Lawrence said. "Our defensive effort was incredible. That core of passers won the match for us."

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