CONTENTS The Measure of the Man
Montana, His Way
A Sense of Space
AROUND THE OVAL
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
About the Montanan
Fall Sports: Midterm Report
By Rick Stern
The middle of UMs fall semester also signifies the middle of the season for Grizzly football, soccer and volleyball teams. Each is having a different level of success as we go to press. However, like professors at midterm, Montanas head coaches seem less interested in grading their teams accomplishments midseason than they are in imagining what success can be achieved before the final whistles sound.
A Tradition of Success
In his first season at the helm of UMs football program last year, head coach Joe Glenn continued an excellent eight-year run of winning UM seasons by leading the Grizzlies to the national championship game, where Montana lost a heartbreaker to Georgia Southern by two points.
The 2001 Grizzlies have continued that tradition of success, garnering a ranking of first place Division I-AA team in the country by late October. In early November, Montanas record stands at 8-1, with the only blemish coming at the hands of the University of Hawaii, a Division I-A squad with an impressive 5-2 record. The Rainbow Warriors beat the Grizzlies 30-12 in Maui in early September.
Montana football has achieved this success despite injuries to several key players. Starting quarterback John Edwards was knocked out of a 42-7 win over Sacramento State with a concussion. He was replaced the following week by junior backup Brandon Neill, who led the team to a 49-19 Homecoming win over St. Marys of California. Injuries early in the Idaho State game also sidelined Edwards. Several offensive linemen have missed significant amounts of playing time, as have key defensive players such as cornerback Calvin Coleman. The fact that the Grizzlies have overcome these injuries without stumbling has many of the Montana faithful hoping for another wildly successful season of Grizzly football.
Im so typical as a football coach, says Glenn. I just look at the games one at a time. We have goals — to win the league, to make the playoffs, and wed like to win the national championship. I talk to our kids about ... how do you eat an elephant? Its obviously a big job, but youve got to approach it one bite at a time.
The Grizzlies have successfully swallowed a heaping helping so far, munching their way to a 5-0 record in Big Sky Conference play. A key match to play is the Griz/Cat game scheduled for November 17 in Bozeman. The Cats have rebounded nicely after a disastrous 2000 season of no wins and eleven losses. They now hold a 3-2 record in conference play and a 4-5 record overall. The game figures to be important for both squads. It also will be a necessary bite to swallow if the Grizzlies hope to return to their fourth national championship game in seven years.
The executive director of Sportsnetwork.com, the organization that ranks the top twenty-five teams in the I-AA is one person who expects to see that happen. Tony Mosss commentary after the Portland State win was: . . . dont be surprised to see a lot of copper, silver and gold around Chattanooga on December 21. Washington-Grizzly is the top stadium and has the best atmosphere in I-AA, hands down, bar none, case clased, end of story. If your team gets sent to Missoula for the playoffs, put a second mortgage on the house, fork over the thousand bucks for airfare, dress warm and find a way to get there. Youll be amazed.
Looking for a Break
Were a very good defensive team and our players on the defensive side are having an excellent year, says Duerksen, who last year led the Grizzlies to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Offensively, we just havent been seeing the production that were used to, she says.
The dip in offensive production can be attributed to injuries to Montanas most successful and experienced returning goal scorers. In 2000, Heather Olson scored fourteen goals to lead the Big Sky Conference, and Amy Wronski was right behind with thirteen goals, tops among newcomers to the conference.
Fast forward one year, and its clear that 2001 has been unkind to Montanas team health. Olson suffered a concussion, which forced her to miss Montanas first two games. Wronski is still trying to work herself back into shape after missing the first half of the season to recover from knee surgery.
We do have a talented team and a hard-working team, says Duerksen, who, along with her players, has remained positive about the Grizzlies chances for success this season. This year, we just havent gotten the breaks. Sooner or later, well be back.
Duerksens prediction started to come true in mid-October. After scoring just nine goals in their first ten games, the Grizzlies turned their offensive woes around with a 4-0 conference win over Sacramento State on October 19 and a 3-0 non-conference win over Gonzaga two days later.
October 26, the team notched the Grizzlies 100th win since the inception of the program, beating Portland State 3-0. Montana went on to a decisive victory over Northern Arizona, clinching a spot in Big Sky postseason play.
The Grizzlies sufferend a 1-0 loss to Eastern Washington the next weekend, with lead scorer Liz Roberts sidelined due to a shoulder injury. Roberts is expected back for the Big Sky tournament in November, and the Grizzlies are poised to overcome a rough start to finish 2001 with characteristic success.
Turning a Corner Midseason
On the volleyball court, head coach Nikki Best has seen injuries limit her teams ability to succeed for the second time in her two-year tenure at the helm. Montana has been without three of its six starting players for most of the season and stands at 5-15 overall, 2-11 in Big Sky Conference play with one game left to play.
Montanas first win came in late Septem-ber over Weber State; the team began the second half of the season by beating Portland State, but they couldnt put together another win in the next few weeks. Were a pretty competitive group and we dont like to lose, says Best. The good part is that we have a lot of young players who are gaining experience and getting better every week.
But, if its true that its more important where you finish than where you start, this fall is shaping up to be successful seasons for Montanas football and soccer teams.
Rick Stern is a freelance writer, the director of the Missoula office of the Rock Creek Alliance, a sports fan and a UM student.