Montana and Air Force both scored second-half goals and played to a 1-1 tie in the season opener for both teams Friday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula. In the opening match of the Montana Kickoff Invitational Friday, Wyoming outscored TCU 4-3.
The tournament will conclude Sunday, with Air Force and TCU meeting at 10:30 a.m. and Montana hosting Wyoming at 1 p.m.
After the Grizzlies and Falcons played a scoreless first half, redshirt junior Ashley Robertson scored Montana’s first goal of the season in the 63rd minute when she headed in a superbly struck corner kick from senior Mary Makris.
Makris’s ball sailed through the box -- and most importantly over Air Force keeper Kelly Stambaugh -- and found Robertson near the far post. Robertson, who stands 5-11, headed the ball to the ground, and the lone Falcon defender on the goal line was unable to knock it down.
“Ashley is one of our better players in the air with her size, and her timing is very good on the ball,” UM coach Mark Plakorus said.
“She did a great job heading the ball down. That’s what you want to do in that situation, because a bouncing ball down on the ground is tougher for a goalkeeper to deal with.”
The lead would be short-lived, however. Air Force used a counterattack just minutes later to get the ball up the left side of the field to Ashley Greco. Her cross into the box was redirected by Noelle Heiser past Griz keeper senior Kendra McMillen.
“I didn’t think we did a great job of defending that counterattack. That’s part of the learning process of not only the back line but also our midfielders. When goals are scored on us, it’s not just the defenders and goalkeeper. It’s what happened in front of them that allowed the ball to get in that position.
“We struggled today to protect our back line as well as we should have.”
The teams would play through a pair of 10-minute overtime periods before settling for a draw.
Montana was outshot 4-2 in the opening half, but that discrepancy does not indicate the opportunities the Grizzlies were just a pass away from creating. More often than not, however, those chances came up short of resulting in a dangerous look at the goal.
Montana improved on its opportunities after the break and outshot Air Force 12-7 over the match’s final 65 minutes.
“We did a much better job as the game went along of gaining control of the ball and moving it well and finding each other, but the decisions we made with our final pass, we’ve got to get better at that,” Plakorus said.
“We either need to shoot it earlier, or we’ve got to make different decisions on our passing. We’re trying to solve the problem with the same approach every time, and that’s not soccer. When something’s not working, you have to solve things in different ways.”
Stambaugh and McMillen both went 110 minutes in goal. Montana put 14 shots on Stambaugh, seven on goal, and she made six saves. The Falcons took 11 shots, three on goal. McMillen, who was playing her first full match in goal since Sept. 22, 2011, made a pair of saves.
“I thought Kendra was fantastic today,” Plakorus said. “This will give her a lot of confidence as we move forward.”
McMillen wasn’t the only player stepping into a new role. Plakorus started both redshirt freshman Tess Brenneman and true freshman Aspen Peifer for their first minutes in a Griz uniform. Brenneman played 89 minutes on the back line.
Sophomore Taylor Rhodes, who saw limited minutes a year ago, played 91 Friday at center back, and Robertson and redshirt freshman Mary Gintz, neither of whom played last season, saw good minutes off the bench.
The match also marked the return of redshirt senior Ashley Tombelaine, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last year’s third match. Tombelaine played 65 minutes and took a team-high three shots.
“One thing we talk about in our program is that when people graduate, the only thing that should change is that the returning players take on an increased role and play increased minutes,” Plakorus said.
“The players that we needed to step up today did. I saw a lot out of them that made me feel pretty good, especially our back line and goalkeeper. They played extremely well, and that’s good to see early on, because that’s one of the question marks we had.”
In Friday’s early match, Wyoming twice came back from deficits to rally past TCU 4-3.
The teams played to a 2-2 tie through the opening half, and TCU needed just 90 seconds of the second half to go up 3-2.
The Cowgirls tied it in the 76th minute on a header off a corner kick, then scored the game-winner less than two minutes later when Liz O’Reilly’s free kick from 20 yards out scored inside the left post.