Madison Adams and Ashlee Pedersen both scored first-half goals as the Montana soccer team bounced back from Friday’s 4-1 home loss to Idaho in the Grizzlies’ Big Sky Conference opener with a 2-0 shutout of Idaho State Sunday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
The win snapped a four-match winless streak for Montana (5-4-2, 1-1-0 BSC) and gave the Grizzlies their first two-goal outing since the season’s opening weekend more than a month ago.
“I thought our attitude coming into today was much better,” said coach Mark Plakorus. “We came out in the first half playing to win. The last two or three weeks we’ve been playing not to lose, and that’s been one of our biggest problems.
“We played free and relaxed today, and we saw a glimpse of what we can be.”
Even before Adams opened the scoring in the 15th minute, it was clear it would be a different Montana team on the field than the one that got worked over by the Vandals on Friday.
Led by the active, dynamic play of the team’s midfielders, the Grizzlies’ front six set the tone from the start against the Bengals (3-9-0, 0-2-0 BSC). The energy was high, the passing crisp, the chances many.
“It was really fun at the beginning. The midfielders and forwards were working really well together,” said senior midfielder Carlee Bates.
“There was a lot of disappointment, a lot of confusion (after Friday’s loss). We had a long talk, and a lot of us changed our minds to let’s play, and it showed today. We were mentally locked in and ready to go. We played really, really well.”
With the way Montana was controlling the field in the early going, it wasn’t a matter of if the Grizzlies were going to score but when.
The game-winner came at 14:47, when Adams took a feed from Hallie Widner in space on the right side. Adams collected the ball and beat ISU keeper Shawna Hennings for her first career goal. It was Widner’s second assist of the season and team-leading eighth point.
“The best word to describe today was fun, and that started at the beginning,” said Bates. “Over the last few weeks we’ve been in a dry spell and a little rut. Today was really crucial. We needed to get that life back in us, and I think we did that. When we play like that, we’re great.”
The same type of scoring play repeated itself in the 34th minute, when Charlene Burger played a ball to Pedersen, who had moved up to forward from her starting center back position just a few minutes earlier.
Pederson’s goal was her first of the season, the fourth of her career. Burger collected her first assist of the season, the fourth of her career.
Two goals, four different sets of feet involved in the execution. More if it was allowable to count hockey assists.
“All of our midfielders are good on the ball. It’s one of our strengths. When we’re moving the ball and finding each other like that, it’s tough to deal with us. Anybody who gets the ball is not only a danger to score, they are also a good passer, so it causes a lot of problems for the defense,” said Plakorus.
“Our movement was very good in the first half. We were finding holes and finding each other, and we were going after (Idaho State). When you’re playing to win, you’re aggressive and you play with a different type of energy, which we did today.”
Montana outshot Idaho State 8-2 in the second half, including Lily Obrigewitch’s shot off the crossbar in the 83rd minute for what would have been her first career goal, but the Grizzlies were not quite as sharp as they had been in the opening 45 minutes.
It didn’t cost them. Senior goalkeeper Kailey Norman made a save in each half to pick up her 21st career shutout and 26th career win.
“In the second half we had the 2-0 lead, and I thought we started to play not to lose. We got a little reactive,” said Plakorus. “We’ve got to find some consistency, but today was definitely a step in the right direction.”
Montana will play at Sacramento State (3-4-3, 1-0-1 BSC) on Friday and at Portland State (2-8-0, 0-2-0 BSC) next Sunday.