BOISE, Idaho – Montana opened its 2017 soccer season on Friday evening, grinding out a 1-0 victory over Boise State. The win improved the Griz to 5-0-2 in season openers under head coach Mark Plakorus.
"We had some first-game jitters and it showed, but our overall grit and fight to get a win on the road was great," Plakorus said. "I think we played pretty well for our first game, and at times really well. It was a good start for us."
The only goal came in the 35th minute, a score last touched by a Boise State defender. But the lone goal was enough to earn the victory.
"We'll take it," Plakorus said. "Getting a win on the road in Division-I soccer is difficult, and Boise State is a better team than last year and is dangerous up front, but we fought and grinded out a win. I'm happy with it."
Boise State (0-1) started the game in hot pursuit, with all-conference forward Raimee Sherie getting a shot on goal in the third minute, testing goalkeeper Claire Howard – who was making her collegiate debut – early. That would be Boise State's only shot on goal, however. The Broncos totaled seven shots – four by Sherie, who was also called for a yellow card in the second half.
The Griz (1-0) had several chances early in the first half, but Ellie Otteson's shot was blocked and Alexa Coyle's header went wide. The Griz also had a corner kick during that span, but was unable to capitalize. Montana kept attacking, though, with Hallie Widner attempting a shot that was blocked and McKenzie Warren earning a shot on goal that was saved.
Following a corner kick in the 33rd minute, the Griz was finally able to capitalize – albeit in a unique way.
Warren had the ball, and with several players in the box, centered it back, hitting off a defender and finding the net.
"That was one of the times where I felt we strung some passes together," Plakorus said.
UM's next attempt didn't come until the 52nd minute, a shot on goal by redshirt sophomore Dani Morris.
"I was really proud of Dani and how she played, coming back from a third ACL injury," Plakorus said.
Morris started 20 games and scored four times as a freshman in 2015, but missed the entire 2016 season due to injury.
The other player who stood out to Plakorus was Howard, who made her collegiate debut in goal. She had the tall task of replacing 2016 Big Sky Conference Goalkeeper of the Year Kailey Norman, and fit the bill well.
"Claire was very, very good in goal," Plakorus said. "She showed her abilities and what we've known about her for a while now."
Howard was one of six Griz making their collegiate debuts, joining Raye Burton, Taylor Hansen, Rita Lang, Kennedy Yost and Coyle, who earned a start.
"It was great to get some of our young women into the game and get them experience," Plakorus said. "Your first collegiate game is hard to describe because no matter how ready you think you are, you're still nervous and it's hard to catch your breath. I thought they showed glimpses of what they're capable of doing, though."
Boise State had two scoring chances with about 25 minutes to play, but the shots went wide and high. The Broncos had another opportunity in the 85th minute, but Michelle Reed's shot from 30 yards out sailed high. It ended up being their last opportunity.
"We were just trying to keep the ball as much as we could to kill the game off," Plakorus said of the game's final minutes. "We were really pushing for a second goal, but when it got really late – the last 3 or 4 minutes, we started to play a little bit more conservative."
Plakorus felt his team played tentative at times – reacting more than playing – but that's expected in a season opener, especially considering UM didn't play an exhibition match. Now, the Griz will get rested before facing their second test: Utah State, Sunday at 1 p.m. The match can be streamed for free through the Mountain West Network.
"The biggest thing you have to do is enjoy this," Plakorus said. "You get a win, you should enjoy it. The next thing is we have to get rest. It was hot, especially on the turf. Now we'll get some food in them and get them some treatment and rest up."
Tomorrow, the focus will turn to scouting and watching film of Utah State, who earned a double overtime victory over South Dakota State on Friday.
"We did some good things today," Plakorus said. "We'll grow from this and we'll continue to get better."