CHENEY, Wash. — For the third time in four contests, Montana came up short in a five-set match, losing to Eastern Washington on Monday afternoon, 3-2 (18-25, 21-25, 25-18, 25-22, 15-9).
On Sunday, Montana held a 2-1 lead before Eastern Washington came back to win the final two sets. On Monday, Montana came out even stronger, winning the first two sets to take a commanding 2-0 lead.
The Grizzlies, though, couldn't hold the momentum. Eastern Washington won the third set, 25-18, before winning the fourth, 25-22. Like they did on Sunday, the Eagles were nearly unstoppable in the fifth set, hitting .571 with no attack errors.
"To lose a five-setter is heartbreaking, but to do it multiple times, it shows our potential but also our inconsistencies," UM head coach Allison Lawrence said. "I thought we came out and played really well and really aggressively early, but Eastern did a nice job of reorganizing and getting their offense going, and we had no answer for their offense."
As a team, the Eagles hit .376, including .500 in the third set and .571 in the fourth set. Led by Maya McClellan's career-high 22 kills, they had three attackers in double figures for kills, all who hit .288 or better.
For Montana, outside hitters Amethyst Harper (18 kills and 12 digs) and Sophia Meyers (13 kills and 19 digs) once again recorded double-doubles. Harper's 18 kills were a season high.
The sophomore had 10 kills on .500 hitting through the first two sets before being held to eight kills on .133 hitting over the final three. Meyers' 19 digs were a career high, with the freshman also adding three service aces.
Freshman middle blocker Madi Chuhlantseff finished the day with eight kills and zero errors (.471 hitting), plus two blocks. She was instrumental in Montana's second-set victory, recording five kills on six swings.
"For a middle to hit that well, it really speaks to your ball control," Lawrence said. "We did a nice job on serve-receive, and Madi capitalized on that and was really smart and savvy with her selection."
Four Grizzlies were in double figures for digs, led by freshman libero Sarah Ashley's career-high 20. Ashley also had a service ace to win the second set. In the loss, Montana hit a season-best .202.
"Our attackers went into the match with a mentality that they wanted to put balls away and be super terminal," Lawrence said. "I was proud of all of our pins — Elsa (Godwin), Am and Soph — for being aggressive."
In the first set, Montana's three pin hitters combined for 11 kills and just two errors (.360 hitting), led by Harper's six.
It was an impressive response from Sunday's loss, as Montana scored the first three points of the match, led 10-4 and never allowed the Eagles to get within four points from that point forward.
After Montana had built a 19-13 lead, Eastern Washington called timeout, but Montana held its foot on the pedal, scoring the next two points to take a game-high 21-13 lead. The Eagles never were able to score more than two consecutive points as Montana led from start to finish and was able to side out at an notable 72% rate.
The second set was impressive in the fact that Montana got better as the set progressed and was able to win the frame late.
Eastern Washington jumped out to a 5-1 lead, but Montana followed with a 6-1 run to take the lead on back-to-back kills from Chuhlantseff. From there, the score would be tied at 11 of the next 15 points, with neither team leading by more than two points.
Chuhlantseff again put Montana on top at 18-17, recording a kill and a solo block during a 3-0 run that forced an Eagles timeout. Tied at 20-20 several points later, Montana scored five of the final six points, getting two kills from Harper, one from senior middle blocker Peyten Boutwell and a service ace from Ashley.
"I was really proud of our response from last night, and I thought we put ourselves in position to completely take over the match and go win in three," Lawrence said.
Instead, Eastern Washington was the one that found a way to take control of the match.
After a 3-3 tie early in the third set, the Eagles went on a 4-0 run and never let Montana recover, hitting .500 (14-1-26). Montana led 6-4 in the fourth set and again at 12-11, following a Meyers ace to cap a 5-1 run, but Eastern Washington scored the next three points and never let go of the lead. Montana was within a point several times late, including 21-20, 22-21 and 23-22, but could never recapture the lead.
Back-to-back kills from Meyers tied the fifth set at 5-5 before Eastern Washington used a 4-0 run to build a multi-point advantage that it held for the remainder of the match.
For Montana, Monday marked the team's third five-set loss in its past four matches.
"We all feel the pain and frustration of falling short again and again, and we know the parts of our game that are breaking down, both mentally and physically," Lawrence said. "There is no other answer than to get back in the gym and to pull yourselves out of this.
"I'm right there with them. I told them after the match that I've never been more frustrated, but I've also never enjoyed working with a team more. The team supports each other and we're all in. We're going to keep forward thinking and figure this out together."