The underclassmen had the seniors’ backs on senior day on Sunday at South Campus Stadium.
Two sophomores, one junior and a freshman scored in the University of Montana soccer team’s 4-0 home finale win over North Dakota.
The Grizzlies remained in the thick of the Big Sky Conference standings, improving to 3-2-1 in league play and 7-6-2 overall.
“I thought we did very well the entire game today,” UM head coach Mark Plakorus said. “It’s always good to score some goals and be able to breathe a little bit, and get some of the younger players in.
“It was great, because we were able to recognize our seniors and bring them out one at a time, so everybody got to say thanks to them, and that’s a great thing.”
Freshman midfielder Mackenzie Akins’ goal in the 28th minute proved to be the difference, but Sunday was more about the seniors’ last home stand than what the scoreboard read.
The contest marked the final time five of the Grizzlies would don the maroon and silver in their own stadium.
“There are a lot of emotions going on,” Montana senior forward Erin Craig said. “I’m mostly just proud of everything, especially of our team and the underclassmen. They really showed up big for us today.”
Although Craig was unable to find the net, her relentless effort and numerous scoring opportunities led to a pair of goals by teammates.
In the 60th minute, Craig took a pass from junior Mary Makris and dribbled past a North Dakota defender down the left side. She seemingly beat the keeper as well, but her shot hammered against the post and rolled in front of the goal. Sophomore midfielder Paytyn Wheeler scored on the rebound, which gave Montana a 2-0 advantage.
Craig set up another sophomore in the 75th by dribbling through three different North Dakota defenders. The defenders surrounded Craig in the penalty box, but the senior was able to poke the ball to fellow forward Allie Simon.
Simon crushed the free ball into the goal and the Grizzlies found themselves up 3-0.
“It’s great to see (the underclassmen) do well,” Plakorus said. “The younger players have been doing such a great job for us. They wanted to come out and have a special day for the seniors.
“This team is an extremely close group and the younger ones wanted to make sure the seniors had a good last game on their home field.”
The underclassmen did more than enough to ensure Plakorus’ seniors a good memory as Makris put the exclaimation point on the match in the 84th.
Makris took a pass from junior Britta Hjalmarsson outside the corner of the penalty box on the left side. The 5-foot-7 midfielder then connected from 20 yards on a high-arching shot that curled around the keeper and found the right side of the net.
Despite zero goals from the seniors, Craig insisted the group had no desire to be the only ones in the spotlight.
“The seniors came into the game today looking at it as, ‘it’s the team’s day,’” she said. “We knew we were going to be recognized for our four or five years here, but we wanted to make sure everyone felt included. We’re a team, we’re here for each other. They really put it all out there for us, and it showed.”
The four goals marked a season-high in a match by the Griz, who bested their previous mark of three in a 3-2 overtime win over Idaho on Sept. 2.
It was also the sixth shutout of the year by senior goalkeeper Kristen Hoon, who finished with one save. Hoon left the field in the 78th minute - as did classmates Craig, Lauren McCreath, Lauren Costa and Kate Wilkins - throughout the second half, to loud applause.
North Dakota (0-5-0, 2-9-1) keeper Kristi Hestdalen recorded seven saves, which could be seen as a bit low with Montana’s 25-7 shot advantage.
Regardless of wins, losses or stat lines, Craig couldn’t help but be nostalgic of her time at UM.
“I’m just proud to be a Griz,” she said. “I have been from Day One, when I first stepped on this field. I remember that moment when I came into the preseason of my freshman year, I had the same kind of realization and moment stepping on the field today. It’s just a surreal feeling.”
The Grizzlies have four matches to play, and all four are on the road. First up is a visit to Eastern Washington on Friday.
North Dakota 0 0 – 0
Montana 1 3 – 4
M – Mackenzie Akins (India Watne), 27:38
M – Paytyn Wheeler (Erin Craig), 59:45
M – Allie Simon (Craig), 74:33
M – Mary Makris (Britta Hjalmarsson), 83:12
Shots – North Dakota 7, Montana 25. Saves – North Dakota 7 (Kristi Hestdalen), Montana 1 (Kristin Hoon, Kendra McMillen). Corner kicks – North Dakota 1 Montana 11. Total fouls – North Dakota 9, Montana 9. Yellow cards – none. Red cards – none.