MISSOULA — In the matter of a couple of hours on Friday, Montana went from its worst loss of the season to one of its most impressive wins, earning a split to open the Chucktown Throwdown in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Grizzlies were swept by the College of Charleston Friday morning (25-23, 25-18, 25-16), but bounced back with a sweep over UNC Greensboro (26-24, 25-19, 29-27). Montana's win over UNC Greensboro came against a team that won the Southern Conference regular-season title last fall, finishing with a record of 23-7.

"We left the gym this morning so dissatisfied, and I think the team really took it upon themselves to not only make big physical adjustments but big emotional adjustments, too," head coach Allison Lawrence said. "We came out so aggressive and so dialed in to our details. I'm really proud of our response."

Also with the win, Montana picked up its sixth non-conference victory of the season – the program's highest total in 17 seasons – and is guaranteed a .500 or better non-conference record in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1999-00.

College of Charleston 3, Montana 1

Montana had its worst showing of the season in Friday's morning match against the College of Charleston, falling in straight sets (25-23, 25-18, 25-16). The Grizzlies hit a season-low .010 in the match, recording nearly the same number of kills (26) as they did attack errors (25).

Through the first half of all three sets, Montana was competitive, if not the aggressor. Montana held a 15-14 lead in the first set and the two teams were tied at 16-16. The Grizzlies held a 12-10 advantage in Set 2. And Montana led for the first stretch of the third set, including by three at 14-11.

In all three sets, though, the Grizzlies hit a mid-set lull – or a bad rotation – that proved to be the difference.

After being tied at 16-16 in Set 1, College of Charleston scored seven of the next eight points. In the second set, Montana's 12-10 lead turned to a 20-13 deficit, as the Cougars scored 10 of the next 11 points, including seven in a row at one point. After playing from in front for the majority of Set 3, Montana scored just two of the final 16 points to see a multi-point lead turn to a lopsided defeat.

"We had some moments where we were giving ourselves some really good opportunities, but we were so streaky," Lawrence said. "We would gain some control and momentum and then have a huge breakdown. The more high-error we got, the more pressure to perform our attack felt, and it just snowballed."

College of Charleston totaled 10 team blocks, which factored into the Grizzlies' low hitting percentage, but many of the errors were more of what Montana didn't do and less of what the opponent did.

During the 10-1 Cougars' run in Set 2, seven of the points came on Montana errors, four being unforced. Same thing in Set 3, when College of Charleston used a 14-2 run, with eight of the points coming on Montana mistakes.

The Grizzlies' hitting percentage was a season low, while the Cougars recorded 11 more kills on eight fewer swings (.216 hitting percentage).

Montana sophomore outside hitter Paige Clark, who averages nearly 4.0 kills per set, had just three kills for the entire match, the first time she has been held below 10 all season. Junior middle blocker Ellie Scherffius, who leads the Big Sky for hitting and entered the day with eight straight matches hitting above .300, hit just .167. She and senior middle blocker Elise Jolly led the Grizzlies with six kills apiece, while defensively, senior libero Sarina Moreno had 13 digs, eight coming in the first set.

Overall, though, Montana's six attackers totaled 25 kills compared to 25 errors.

Montana 3, UNC Greensboro 0

As poor as Montana hit against the College of Charleston, Montana was firing against UNC Greensboro. The Grizzlies hit .262, recording 48 kills compared to 15 errors. Many of the players who struggled Friday morning had monster performances Friday afternoon.

Paige Clark, who was held to three kills and seven errors (-.182 hitting), bounced back with a match-high 14 kills, doing so at a .263 clip. Elise Jolly hit .077 against College of Charleston before hitting .474, with 10 kills, vs. UNCG. Most impressive, though, was senior opposite hitter Catie Semadeni, who bounced back from a three-kill, six-error morning (-.167 hitting) to total a season-high 11 kills on .474 hitting, recording zero errors on 25 swings.

"Catie had a huge turnaround in her day," Lawrence said. "After being ineffective this morning – hitting negative and being pulled in one of the sets – she was really frustrated, but she came back and hit over .400 and was really big for us. That's the kind of response and leadership we need."

Setting up the offense was junior setter Carly Anderson, who dished out 37 assists, to go along with four kills and an ace of her own.

As good as Montana's offense was, most impressive to Lawrence was her team's ability to remain patient for the right shot.

"We managed our game and trusted our defense to win the rally," she said. "This morning, it felt like it was either a kill or an error. This afternoon, we showed patience and poise to extend rallies and trust our defense and wait for the right time to pick our attack and get a kill."

Defensively, Sarina Moreno had 15 digs. Lawrence also praised her team's bench, noting both Jena Kelly, for her tough serving, and Ginny Pace, who made her collegiate debut in the fourth set.

Despite two of the set scores being incredibly close, Montana felt in control of e match, trailing for just 12 total points (out of 150 possible).

The opening set saw 15 tie scores, but after taking a 3-2 lead, Montana never trailed. The Grizzlies were able to side out at a 70-percent rate and hit .317 with 18 kills – including six from Semadeni – getting back-to-back kills after the score was tied at 24-24.

The Grizzlies jumped out to a 5-1 lead in Set 2 and never trailed. Montana out-hit UNCG .290 to .088 and was able to side out at a 75-percent rate. Jolly and Semadeni were dominant in the frame, but also strong was senior outside hitter Jackie Howell, who had three kills on five swings and later factored in with back-to-back aces during a 5-0 scoring run during Set 3.

The Grizzlies used a 6-1 run midway through the third frame to build a 19-15 lead and held several match-point opportunities, beginning at 24-20, before UNCG rattled off five straight points to take a rare lead, and nearly extend the match.

Montana, though, would get back-to-back kills from Clark and Semadeni to retake the lead, and then after ties at 26-26 and 27-27, earned the win on kills from Scherffius and Jolly.

"Part of preseason is to build resiliency," Lawrence said. "We were playing back-to-back after our morning match, and then to be able to stay poised and pull through late in the set, after facing some adversity, is a testament to their attitude. I'm really proud of this group and I love this team."

Load comments