Montana volleyball team falls in straight sets to Portland State

After a four-set loss to Sacramento State on Thursday night, Montana’s volleyball team found themselves empty on Saturday, falling in straight sets to Portland State, 25-21, 25-15, 25-11.

The Hornets and Vikings are tied atop the Big Sky standings at 5-1, while Montana fell to 3-2.

“We want to take on the best in the conference and match them with our own resilience and physicality,” UM coach Allison Lawrence said. “As players they want to do that and can do it, but this game showed what can happen when you don’t assert yourself in a game.”

Montana and Portland State fought for most of the first set. After Portland State scored the first five points of the game, Montana responded with the next five, including two aces from senior libero Sarina Moreno. From that point on, the two teams were tied at 12 straight points, 5-5 at 16-16, with the Grizzlies taking their first lead at 11-10 on an ace from Paige Clark.

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The Vikings finally broke the deadlock with three straight points to take a 19-16 lead. Montana twice worked within a point, including at 21-20, but could never regain the lead.

“We extended rallies and gave up in a way that pushed Portland State,” Lawrence said of the first set. “Good things were happening, and I felt going into the second set that if we could get a few more kills, we would be there.”

While Montana initially looked like they could play point for point with Portland State — a team that took first place in the league’s preseason poll — the Grizzlies had no answer in the second or third sets.

Montana held a brief 3-2 Set-2 lead and was tied at 5-5 before the Vikings scored 11 of the next 14 points to overtake the Grizzlies, 16-8. Montana never came within six points, as Portland State outscored Montana .406 (16-3-32) to .100 (8-5-30).

Portland State took a 7-2 lead to start Set 3 and, after a 6-0 run, held a solid 16-5 advantage. The Grizzlies were hit hard again, .520 (15-2-25) to .150 (6-3-20).

“They were digging so many balls and the quality of their first touch set up their offense,” Lawrence said of Portland State. “They were in transition in the system, they were in transition in the service-reception… We couldn’t slow them down or score.

“It was frustrating and we played tight, scrappy and scared. We couldn’t relate to this game at all.”

As a team, Montana had just 23 kills, with Clark recording eight. Elise Jolly and Catie Semadeni were next on the team, with four wins apiece. Moreno had a team-high 10 recoveries.

Portland State had twice as many wins as Montana, with three players hitting double figures and all three hitting above .320. The Vikings hit .381 as a team and were able to retire at a rate of 74%.

The road trip finally ended a streak that saw the Grizzlies play 13 of 14 games on the road. Montana will return home for its next four contests — and seven of the next nine — starting Thursday against Northern Arizona. The Grizzlies upset the Lumberjacks two weeks ago for their first victory in Flagstaff in 12 years, but NAU is coming off a win over preseason favorite Northern Colorado.

“The way this league shakes, there are a lot of teams that can take over the league, and we’re one of them,” Lawrence said. “We have work to do, but I’m confident that we can still accomplish this fall.”