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About the Montanan
by Ryan Divish
Lets just say it wasnt an auspicious beginning. In his debut as head football coach for the Grizzlies, Joe Glenn watched his team score a paltry nine points against the Hofstra Flying Dutchmen in the season opener. The 10-9 loss to Hofstra left the sellout crowd at Washington-Grizzly Stadium virtually silent.
Doubt ran rampant in Grizville. Fans could be seen running around Missoula doing a Chicken Little impersonation screaming, The sky is falling! The sky is falling! We lost to Hofstra.
The Griz would silence their critics a week later with a stellar 45-38 victory over longtime rival Idaho, led by senior quarterback Drew Millers 505 yards passing and five touchdowns and a dramatic catch by senior wide receiver Jimmy Farris.
As we go to press, Montana, 7-0 in the league and 9-1 overall is ranked No. 1 in the nation and has clinched its sixth Big Sky Conference title in eight years. Following the Idaho game, UM reeled off consecutive wins over Cal Poly, Eastern Washington, Sacramento State, Cal State-Northridge and Northern Arizona. But the Griz paid a hefty price in injuries.
Last years leading rusher, running back Yohance Humphery, pulled a hamstring during the Eastern Washington game and was benched for three games. His backup, Ben Drinkwalter, was injured in the same game. Montana then called on true freshman Tate Hancock to help its ground game, and after a good performance against Sacramento State Hancock also injured a shoulder.
By far the most crucial injury came against Northridge when Drew Miller, a Walter Payton Award contender, injured his right throwing shoulder, putting him out of the action for several weeks. About the plethora of injuries, Glenn says: You never think about that. If somebody gets hurt, the next guy has got to do the job, and our record reflects the fact that were competing and doing the job.
Sophomore quarterback John Edwards, a strong set of receivers and a tough UM defense kept the Grizzlies in the game. UMs defense — led by linebacker Adam Boomer, defensive end Andy Petek and strong safety Vince Huntsberger — were a dominant force for most of the season. Ranking near the top in the Big Sky Conference in most statistical categories, the Griz defense came up with big play after big play this season.
Edwards replaced Miller in the Northridge game and has led the Griz to victory four times, including a 33-21 win in a grudge match with eighth-ranked Portland State and a 38-21 win over Idaho State. Miller returned for part of the Portland State game and was back to lead the Griz to a 30-28 victory over Weber State. Both quaterbacks were blessed with a seasoned group of receivers, including Farris, Etu Molden, Tanner Hancock and T.J. Oelkers.
Humphrey, returning for the game against Portland State, resurrected the Griz running game, picking up 194 yards against Portland, 149 yards against Idaho State, and 197 against Weber to make him the leading rusher in UM history, with a total of 2,345 yards. Yet to come is the 100th Griz-Cat meeting, held in Missoula this year. The Griz are assured a berth in the NCAA tournament. If they beat the Cats they could host as many as three tournament games. Griz fans can get the latest information by logging onto www.montanagrizzlies.com
Volleyball: They Could be Contenders
Nikki Best, another first-year head coach, admits that early in the season her team was still trying to learn the new system she brought with her from Big-12 powerhouse University of Nebraska. But Montana Volleyball, with a record of 8-8 in league play and 16-13 overall, was close to cinching a slot in the Big Sky Conference tournament when we went to press. Bests mix of quiet intensity and professionalism seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the women spikers.
The team has been led by the senior trio of Erin Adams, Kodi Taylor and Tara Conner. Adams has reached double figures in most of the matches this season and ranks among UMs all-time career leaders in those moves. Taylor has played a strong role at the net and Conner, the teams setter, ranks in the top in the conference in assists per game and has flourished under Bests system.
UM struggled early in the season due to a brutal travel schedule that took the team to four states. But when it can play to its strengths, namely the transition game, Montana is tough to beat.
Montana at one time led the conference, but losses to Eastern Washington, Sacramento State and Montana State dropped the team to sixth. Wins against Colorado, Cal State-Northridge and Montana State put them back in play.
When we play our transition game, Best says, we can beat anyone.
And as Best is quick to point out, anyone can beat anyone in the fickle Big Sky.
Soccer: Back-to-Back Titles
To say theyre on a roll may be understatement. UMs soccer team laid claim to the Big Sky Tournament championship in late October with a 5-0 victory over Sacramento State, the only conference team to beat them during the regular season. Led by veteran head coach Betsy Duerksen, the Montana strikers then tallied an easy (6-0) win in the Southland Conference over Northwestern State to advance to the NCAA tournament. They won their first round 1-0 over Washington State, but lost 5-0 in the second round to the No. 2 team in the country, the University of Washington.
Early in the season the bets may not have been on Montana. After losing four key seniors off last years NCAA tourney team, the core of young players experienced the proverbial growing pains. At one point it looked as if the team would be traveling for the conference tournament. But with a pair of victories over Idaho State and Weber State, UM had only to win its remaining two matches against Cal State-Northridge and Northern Arizona to host the conference tournament.
Junior forward Heather Olson and seniors Shannon Forslund and Jodi Campbell have been key to Montanas success. Olson, a goal-scoring machine from Helena, leads the conference in goals with fourteen and has 32 points for the season. Campbell has scored five goals and dished out eleven assists. Two of Campbells goals were overtime game winners. Forslund and fellow seniors Kerri Houck and Natalie Hiller have anchored a UM defense that has put up ten shutouts in the season.
Women Running Strong
According to head coach Tom Raunig, both the mens and womens cross country teams have excellent chances of making it to the NCAA championships. But so far its the women who are looking stronger.
Junior Sabrina Monro led the womens team with wins at the Montana Invitational in Missoula and the Big Cross Invitational in Pasco, Washington, and she finished seventh at the Pre-NCAA meet in Iowa City. She won her second consecutive Big Sky Conference womens cross country title at UC-Riverside, leading the womens cross country team to a second-place finish. It was the highest finish for a UM womens team since 1986.
Monros teammates also ran strong down the stretch. Senior Heather Anderson recovered from a pre-season injury to take second place at Riverside in the second race she ran all season. The women face tough competition in the regionals, including top-ranked Brigham Young and fifth-ranked Colorado.
The mens team struggled early in the season, with a combination of nagging injuries and sicknesses hampering many of the mens performances. But, led by seniors Brad Treat, Jesse Barnes and Casey Perry, the team came up with a third-place tie with Montana State at the Big Sky Conference championships to qualify for the regionals in Odgen, Utah. Both teams will need a strong showing there to gain an NCAA berth.
Ryan Divish is sports editor for the Montana Kaimin.
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