Montana and Utah Valley both entered Friday night’s soccer match at Orem, Utah, on five-match winning streaks. Ninety minutes later, the Grizzlies had made it six in a row.
Montana got a goal from sophomore Paytyn Wheeler just before the half, and the Grizzlies made it stand up as the game-winner in their 1-0 regular-season-finale victory. It was Montana’s sixth straight shutout, the program’s longest streak since 1997 and one off the program record of seven set in 1996.
The Grizzlies ran their record to 11-6-2, the most wins for the program since the 2000 team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament won 16 matches.
Though Friday’s match was scheduled well before the season, it was hoped it would be a tune-up for the Big Sky Conference tournament and not the final match of the season. The Grizzlies clinched a spot in next week’s four-team Big Sky tournament last weekend and got what they wanted out of Friday’s match.
“Utah Valley is a very good, very athletic team, and they caused us some problems that we had to solve defensively,” UM coach Mark Plakorus said.
“Overall I’m very pleased with the way we played tonight. We started at a high level and stayed there the whole game.”
Montana got after Utah Valley early, taking the match’s first five shots in the opening 11 minutes. The Grizzlies put three of those on goal.
Montana outshot UVU 10-4 in the first half, but it wasn’t until the 44th minute that the Grizzlies opened the scoring.
Wheeler took possession near midfield and dribbled her way to the 18-yard box. Her high shot dropped inside the right post for her fifth goal of the season, one off senior Erin Craig’s team lead.
Utah Valley did not put any shots on goal in the second half, but despite a number of chances to extend their lead, the Grizzlies were unable to find an insurance goal.
Wheeler took a shot in the 65th minute that got behind UVU keeper Lauren Sack but was saved by a Utah Valley defender, and Wheeler’s shot in the 86th minute hit the crossbar.
Montana outshot Utah Valley for the match 19-7 and took six of the match’s seven corner kicks.
Senior keeper Kristen Hoon went the distance in goal to earn her ninth shutout of the season, matching Natalie Hiller’s single-season program record from 2000. Montana’s 11 team shutouts this season are just one off the program record.
In Montana’s run of six wins and six shutouts, Hoon has had to make a preposterously low 18 saves, including just one in Sunday’s win at Northern Arizona and one Friday against the Wolverines. All of which points to the work being done in front of the keeper.
“As a team we defended very well today,” Plakorus said. “Going in we wanted to make sure we met the challenges we knew Utah Valley was going to present, and we did that throughout the entire game.”
With the regular season complete, Montana now can turn its focus to the Big Sky Conference tournament. The No. 3 Grizzlies will face a team nearly as hot as they are when they match up against No. 2 Portland State next Friday morning at Pocatello, Idaho.
The Vikings (9-7-2), who won their own tune-up match Wednesday at Cal State Bakersfield, will enter Friday’s match having gone 7-1-1 over their last nine, including a 2-0 victory over Montana in the team’s regular-season meeting at Hillsboro, Ore.