After watching his team play a desultory first half and walk to the locker room in a scoreless tie with Nevada Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium, Montana soccer coach Mark Plakorus did something he never wants to do.
“I told them, the one thing I don’t coach is effort,” he recounted after his team played a strong second half and came away with a 2-0 victory. “And now I find myself having to talk to you guys about effort, and that’s not a good thing.
“There was nothing we could even talk about tactically, because we weren’t even playing. So we just talked about coming out in the second half and putting our best effort forward.”
And they did. Senior India Watne scored on a free kick from 30 yards out in the 52nd minute, her third goal in four matches, and senior Maddey Frey scored her first career goal a little more than two minutes later on an assist from redshirt freshman Mary Gintz to account for the game’s scoring.
All told, the Grizzlies took 10 second-half shots and mostly controlled play over the final 45 minutes to extend their home unbeaten streak to a dozen (7-0-5).
“I think you saw a more relaxed team in the second half, one that attacked and took risks,” Plakorus said. “We just played and went for it, and we were rewarded with some very nice goals and created a number of other dangerous opportunities.
“I was very pleased with the second half, but we can’t start games that slowly.”
An indicator of the first half of play: Nevada, which had been held scoreless in five of its first seven matches entering play Friday, took its first corner kick with less than a minute gone in the match.
Montana took nine first-half shots, but its play was disjointed and mostly uninspiring. And it forced Plakorus to address a team at halftime that he hardly recognized.
“I thought we came out very lethargic in the first half,” he said. “We didn’t have any energy, and we were reactive and standing around watching each other play. We played very much as individuals.”
His message clearly got through, and after sophomore Mackenzie Akins was fouled in the 51st minute, Watne, who one writer last month dared suggest might be mostly forgotten after a quiet junior year, set up to take a free kick from the right side, 30 yards out.
She crushed it, and the ball didn’t quit sailing until it had cleared Nevada keeper Kelsey Quintos and entered the goal under the crossbar and inside the left post.
“I’ve been working on those in practice and working on keeping my head down,” she said. “Even though it went in, I’m not going to take credit for trying to score. I was just trying to keep it on frame, because that creates rebounds and ricochets.”
Watne was first-team All-Big Sky Conference as a sophomore following a season with four goals and eight assists. Last year she was limited to just two assists and no goals. With some of Montana’s goal scorers sidelined with injuries, Watne is heating up at just the right time: the Big Sky Conference schedule starts next week.
Watne scored the game-winner in the Grizzlies’ 3-1 victory over Utah Valley, struck again last Friday in Montana’s 3-3 draw at Nebraska-Omaha, and then scored again Friday, her third career game-winner.
“It’s a confidence boost when you’re scoring consistently, especially for someone like me who hasn’t scored very much,” she said. “It feels really good.”
If Watne’s goal was the game-winner, it was Frey’s 2:21 later that made it 2-0 and put everyone at ease.
Gintz played a ball ahead to a streaking Frey, who raced past Nevada’s defenders from the left side of the field to the right while closing in on Quintos.
When Frey got past the final defender, Quintos came out of goal and Frey sent one past Quintos and inside the left post for her first collegiate goal.
Then it was up to senior keeper Kendra McMillen, who gave up five goals in two road matches last weekend, to preserve what would be her third shutout of the season. She faced four corner kicks in the second half but just six shots and finished the match with four saves.
Montana will open Big Sky Conference play next week with matches at Weber State on Thursday and Idaho State at Saturday.