The Griz soccer team wrapped up an impressive two-match showing at the Montana Cup with a 4-1 victory over San Jose State on Sunday afternoon at South Campus Stadium in Missoula.
Montana (3-1-0) opened the weekend with a 2-0 shutout of Air Force on Friday evening.
Facing a San Jose State (1-3-0) team that blanked Eastern Washington 3-0 on Friday, the Grizzlies played a fantastic first half, scoring three goals in the opening 38 minutes to take charge.
"We talk a lot about starting every game fast and being engaged and being as dangerous as we possibly can be," said UM coach Mark Plakorus. "Today I thought we really came out ready to play and were sharp from the get-go."
It was a case of quality over quantity for Montana in the first half. The Grizzlies took just eight shots, but six of them were on goal. Three were saved, three found the net, starting with Alexa Coyle's first collegiate goal in the 14th minute.
Ellie Otteson played a ball into open space on the right side, where Coyle tracked it down and fired a shot past Spartan goalkeeper Paige Simoneau to open the scoring.
"It was a great way to start off the game," said Coyle. "I give all the credit to my teammates. Ellie played me a great ball, and all I had to do was put it away."
The goal was Montana's third of the season, and to that point all three had been scored by freshmen. The rest of Sunday's goals were put in by upperclassmen. The Grizzlies had six goals on the weekend from six players.
"I think it shows how much depth we have on this team," added Coyle. "If one person gets tired, we put the next person in and they produce to the same level. It says a lot about our team and how talented we are through the bench."
A foul on San Jose State in the 22nd minute just inside the top of the 18-yard box gave Montana its first penalty kick of the season. Kaitlin Crowell converted, burning one at grass level to the right of a diving Simoneau for what would turn out to be the game-winner.
The Grizzlies went up 3-0 in the 38th minute when Taryn Miller sent a free kick into the box. Hallie Widner went up for the header but missed. That was enough to freeze Simoneau. One bounce of the ball later, Allie Lucas was there for a header of her own, her sixth career goal.
"Something we've been working on the last couple of weeks has been trying to stay composed with our chances and at least making sure they're on frame to give ourselves a chance," said Plakorus, whose team scored three first-half goals for the first time since October 2014.
"I thought everyone, from the back line up front, played very well today, especially in the first half. It's not very often you score three goals in the first half of a game. It was fun to see and fun to watch."
San Jose State got off four shots and created three corner kicks early in the second half and finally got on the board in the 57th minute when Dorthe Hoppius scored her second goal of the season.
"The second half we knew they were going to come out hard," said Plakorus. "We expected them to change something in their system to get more numbers forward, and they did.
"They started playing more direct and winning everything in the air. We gave up a goal trying to clear a set piece, and that put us on our heels a little bit."
Less than four minutes after giving up a goal, Montana took another hit when Claire Howard, who'd played every minute in goal this season, went to the ground after taking the bottom of a cleat to the leg in a collision.
She was escorted directly to the locker room by the team's trainers, which put the spotlight on backup Maddie Vincent, a fifth-year senior who had only played in five matches in her career before Sunday.
If it was a different sport, Vincent would have picked up the save. She faced five shots and kept San Jose State out of the net, preserving the win for Howard.
"That's the mentality of a keeper," said Vincent. "You have to be ready and your mind has to be right, so that if something does happen, you're ready to step in and help your team."
Any momentum San Jose State was holding came to an end in the 71st minute when Miller, who earned the assist on Lucas's goal, made it a three-point game for herself with a goal that made it 4-1 in the 71st minute.
Chanelle Pederson played a free kick into the box from the left side. Widner headed it across the goal face to Miller, who scored with her own header off a double assist. And that was that.
"I'm proud of the girls," said Plakorus. "We faced some adversity but we composed ourselves and fought out of it.
"We just wanted to be better than we were last week and do it for two consecutive games against two quality opponents, which is what we faced this weekend. I thought the girls responded really well in their preparation and their focus. I really like the team we're growing into."
Montana will face Georgia Southern (2-1-1) and Nebraska (3-0-0) next weekend in neutral-site matches in Pullman, Wash.