The Montana volleyball team had its chances on Saturday afternoon to finish off a perfect weekend at the UND Classic, but the host North Dakota Fighting Hawks rallied and won two extended sets for a five-set victory in the final match of the tournament.
The Grizzlies finish the weekend 2-1. New Mexico won the tournament tiebreaker as Montana finished second. It took everything that North Dakota had to clinch the 21-25, 29-27, 16-25, 25-20, 18-16 win. Montana outhit North Dakota .235-to-.182 and led in blocks 13-10. The service line, which keyed Montana to victory on Friday, hurt them against the Hawks as they had eight aces and 13 errors.
“I’m really proud of the weekend overall. This one hurts because it felt like we kind of lost our structure and lost the things that were winning us matches and making too many mental errors in moments when we haven’t been,” UM coach Allison Lawrence said. “But I think overall we just added so much to our game from last weekend to this weekend.”
If you looked at the overall schedule through three weekends, and at the opponents that Montana would face in Grand Forks entering the tournament, a 3-6 overall record and a 2-1 mark here would have been a positive.
But after starting so strong and having multiple set points in the second, and a match point in the final set, this loss stings for Lawrence and her team. The Grizzlies had won seven straight five-set matches entering today.
Carly Anderson had another great day leading Montana’s offense. She had her fourth double-double in the last five matches with 45 assists, 10 digs, five kills and four blocks. The performance earned her a spot on the All-Tournament team for the second straight weekend.
Paige Clark also earned a spot on the All-Tournament team with a team-high 44 kills and nine aces on the weekend.
Ellie Scherffius was efficient in the middle with 10 kills on .474 hitting while fellow middle Madi Chuhlantseff also reached double-digit kills. Maddie Kremer led Montana with 14 kills on .217 hitting. Clark had 12 kills on .132 hitting.
Montana had to respond in a defensive battle of a first set. The teams went back and forth early, but a 5-0 North Dakota lead opened up a 13-9 lead for the hosts. Both teams were hitting under .100 midway through the set, and Montana picked up a third of its first nine points with blocks.
After a Grizzly timeout, they reeled off a 5-0 run to retake a 14-13 lead and force a North Dakota timeout. It didn’t stop the momentum as Montana added two more points out of the break for a 7-0 run to open up a 16-13 advantage.
A match full of runs saw North Dakota retake the lead late with three straight points to go ahead 19-18, but Montana responded instantly. Five in a row for the Griz made it 23-19 and they would hold on to take the opening set.
Maddie Kremer had a strong start to the match with a pair of kills on .400 hitting to go along with two aces in the first set. She also controlled the ball well with six receptions. The Grizzlies did everything well in the opening set win, hitting .265 while also playing strong defensively with four blocks. They added two service aces as well.
The Fighting Hawks had control early on in the second set, going ahead 16-9 while negating all of the strengths that Montana had shown in the first set. The Griz had zero aces and blocks at the time, and were hitting in the negatives.
Montana slowly started to work its way back into the set. They had a 4-0 run with Clark at the service line to cut it to a three-point lead. They added three straight later to knock North Dakota’s lead down to 17-16, and suddenly the Grizzlies also were outhitting the Fighting Hawks.
The lead would stay in the hands of North Dakota through the late set, and they had multiple set point opportunities at 24-21. The Grizzlied staved them off, scoring four straight points to go ahead 25-24. The Grizzlies would have two set point opportunities of their own in the marathon set, but couldn’t convert either as North Dakota took it 29-27. The Fighting Hawks hit .250 with five aces and four blocks in the set.
The match had followed a similar script to the first two of the weekend for the Grizzlies, and it looked to continue along the storyline in the third. In Montana’s wins over New Mexico and Green Bay, they had a big momentum stealing third set that carried them to a victory.
Against North Dakota, they opened it up early and led the whole way in the third. They jumped ahead 11-6, and when North Dakota inched closer Ellie Scherffius turned them back again. She had back-to-back kills, upping her match totals to seven on .636 hitting.
Montana served well in the set, picking up two aces but also generating several easy attacks as North Dakota passes found their way back to the Montana side of the net. They would close out the set 25-16, outhitting UND .235-to-.081 and blocking five attacks.
It seemed to be all going to plan, as the offense exploded out of the gates in the fourth. Montana built an early lead and were hitting over .500 as a team. They took a 16-13 lead, but things started to go wrong quickly. North Dakota scored eight straight points, taking a 21-16 advantage.
They would hold it through the end, winning the fourth set 25-20 despite a .393 hitting percentage for Montana. The Grizzlies had 12 kills and just a single error, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the North Dakota rally.
The Grizzlies had confidence still entering the fifth set, where they had not lost since 2021. They defeated Binghamton in five last Thursday in the only match to go the distance this season.
There were plenty more scoring runs throughout the shortened fifth set. Montana had three straight early to take a 5-2 lead, but North Dakota would rally right back to tie it at five. The Griz scored three straight into the midway point to lead 8-6 as the teams changed sides.
Montana’s defense stepped up late, blocking two straight attacks to give the Griz a 12-10 lead. But North Dakota again had a nice rally, scoring four straight to set up double match point.
Madi Chuhlantseff had a kill, and the Griz forced an attacking error to get it tied at 14-all. Catie Semadeni had a kill a few points later that made it 16-15 Montana. They couldn’t convert the match point, giving up three straight points to the Fighting Hawks to fall 18-16.
“It’s as close as it can get,” Lawrence said. “We fought off match points and we had a match point, and multiple set points in the second, so it was unfortunate. But I think we played well enough to win still given the fact that I think we can play a lot better.”
Montana will next hit the road for the Boise State Classic. The field features host Boise State (2-4) as well as South Dakota State (2-7) and Loyola Marymount (3-3).