|The Big Sky Tournament is set, and kicks off Thursday in Missoula - Details below|
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"Just very proud of the girls," said Montana head coach Mark Plakorus. "It's something they established as one of their goals last January when we got back to school. They wanted to win this conference and possibly host the tournament. I give credit to these kids - they just made the commitment and did the hard work, and coming together as a team. They're the ones that did it. Just really proud of em and happy for them."
The Grizzlies created some dangerous chances in the early going. Just three minutes into the contest a ball into the box came back out to the top of the area, setting up a nice shot from about 16 yards by Chloe Torres on the right side that flashed past the left post.
In the 11th minute a nice give-and-go between Hallie Widner and Tyler Adair near the top left of the box created a dangerous opportunity before Kayla Sutter broke it up just before they could get a shot off.
Eastern began to show some promise at the other end, but was unable to get any quality looks on goal before Montana returned to prominence in the attack. In the 18th minute Mackenzie Akins beat a defender at the top of the box to turn and fire from about 17 yards, forcing a nice save from Schwery.
In the 24th minute a throw-in in the offensive end to Chloe Williams near the end line was sent on to Savannah Hoekstra, who fired high from the sharp angle.
In the 33rd minute the Eagles came the closest to getting the opener when a Cassie Black shot from 15 yards out on the left toward the far post forced goalkeeper Kailey Norman to make a diving stop. The rebound fell to Hoekstra, but Norman rebounded just in time to stuff her attempt at the post.
Two minutes later a goal kick from Schwery bounced through the midfield, putting Black and Hoekstra racing toward goal. Norman did well to come out and tackle the ball away at the very edge of the box as Black was shooting. The loose ball eventually found its way to the head of Hoekstra, who nodded it just over the bar and into the top netting just as Norman had recovered to the open goal.
"I thought our first half we played really well the first 15-20 minutes and then our level kind of dropped," said Plakorus. "Give credit to Eastern Washington; they really came on strong there, and probably could of had a couple and we were fortunate to keep it out,"
The Eagles came out in the second half and held the better of play and outshot the Grizzlies seven shots to three in the period to become just the second Big Sky opponent this season to outshoot the Grizzlies in a game this season (16-10). However, they never got any better looks at goal than the few in the first half, though there were a few headers on free kicks and corners that could have changed the complexion of the game.
"In the second half I thought we just kept battling," said Plakorus. "Thought the goal we scored was taken well; and then just kinda locked it down - really didn't give them another chance. That's a good team. Chad, Max and Rich have been doing a great job with them. It's gonna be fun to get to the conference tournament next week and see what happens."
"I'm pretty proud of those kids. We just played a really good team - obviously, they haven't lost in conference all year," said first year Eastern Washington coach Chad Bodnar. "I don't have anything to fault in terms of our effort and work rate or kids not playing the way we asked them to play. We just missed some chances that I think we could have put away and made it a different game. I am very proud of our group with that performance today."
"That's a good team that we just played, and I thought we showed well. I just told the kids the same thing. I think if you take from where we were at the beginning of the season to where we are now, it's been leaps and bounds in terms of what we've done as a group and the way we play. There's nothing to hang our heads about; I'm proud of our performance."
Eastern would ultimately finish as the final seed in the Big Sky tournament as every other result went against them, but the five victories marked the best tally in a conference campaign for the Eagles, who were picked to finish 10th in the 11-team conference in the preseason poll.
"I think our team has improved dramatically over the course of the season and like I said I have no qualms with the way that we played today. That was a good team and they finished the chance that they had. That's how it goes. We just got to be sharper in front of goal. During the season you have your ups and downs at that, and I hope we get sharp going into next week and finish our chances, and I think we will be alright."
Eastern will head to Missoula next week with the confidence of knowing that they can perform well on the road. Amazingly they were 1-4 at home in Big Sky play and 4-1 away from home, including a 1-0 victory just two weeks ago in Flagstaff against upcoming first round opponent Northern Arizona. Chloe Williams netted the deciding tally in the contest.
"We just said every game we've lost, we bounced back and won the next one; so that bodes well for next week," Bodnar said. "We've done well on the road, for whatever reason, and we've always bounced back. And, I believe that we will and those kids will come back and play hard in that first round game we will play in Montana."
"Our conference is a lot more difficult than people think it is. There is not much that separates the teams, and so it's going to be a battle," Plakorus said of the upcoming Big Sky tournament. "It's going to be interesting to see how the teams handle the elements because it's been raining in Missoula the past two weeks, and it's going to keep raining. But, I think its going to be good soccer, and we are just excited we have a chance to keep playing."
Elsewhere in the Big Sky Conference
Thursday, October 30
Idaho 0-8 Illinois State (NL)
With their season done and awaiting the other results to see if they can remain in playoff position, the Vandals embarked on a final non-league game. The hosts scored five in the first half en route to the big win. MORE [+]
"Overall, I'm very happy with my first year as a Vandal," first-year coach Derek Pittman told INWsoccernews over the weekend. "I believe our young roster showed some real promise in the Big Sky going 3-2-1 against the top six finishers. We learned that we can't take any of our opponents lightly and that we can also compete with anyone in our conference. We started 9-10 freshmen and sophomores every game and have some quality young players that matured a lot this season. It was fantastic that we were able to get a taste of being near the top of the standings and will give us the fuel to come back even hungrier next season to challenge for a Big Sky Championship."
Friday, October 31
Idaho State 2-1 Weber State
Facing a must-win situation against an already-eliminated Wildcat squad, the Bengals advanced to the Big Sky tournament the hard way, rallying for the win. The hosts took the lead in the 50th minute of the contest, but Idaho State answered with the equalizer in the 67th. A ball into the box was headed out by a defender marking Amanda Ellsworth, going right to Whitney Peterson for the lengthy shot from a sharp angle on the left side into the far side netting.
Sacramento State 0-2 Portland State
North Dakota 0-6 Northern Colorado
Southern Utah 0-1 Northern Arizona
Final Big Sky Conference Standings
Montana 8-0-2... 26 points
Portland State 6-2-2... 20
Northern Arizona 5-2-3... 18
Northern Colorado 5-4-1... 16
Idaho State 5-4-1... 16
Eastern Washington 5-5-0... 15
Southern Utah 4-4-2... 14
Idaho 4-4-2... 15
Sacramento State 4-6-0... 12
Weber State 2-7-1... 7
North Dakota 0-10-0... 0
Big Sky Tournament (@ Univ of Montana)
Thursday, November 6 -- First Round
3 Northern Arizona v 6 Eastern Washington 11:00 MST
4 Northern Colorado v 5 Idaho State 2:00 MST
Friday, November 7 -- Semifinals
NAU / EWU v 2 Portland State 11:00 MST
UNC / ISU v 1 Montana 2:00 MST
Sunday, November 9 -- Championship 12:00 MST
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