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Montana State upsets host Weber State to open Big Sky volleyball tournament

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BOZEMAN — On Wednesday morning, Montana State women’s basketball coach Tricia Binford sent a text to the Bobcat volleyball coaching staff. It simply read, "Find a way, doesn’t matter how.”

Montana State (14-15), which had its back against the wall for most of the season, entered its match with No. 3 seed Weber State (17-11) missing two starters who had played instrumental roles when the Bobcats swept the Wildcats in three sets a week ago in Swenson Gym.

“We had the classic next player up mentality,” said MSU acting head coach Cole Aiazzi. “We train hard all season, everyone is involved, and we hold everyone to the same expectations. This team has so much trust in each other.”

That philosophy paid big dividends as the Bobcats, who entered the Big Sky Conference tournament as the No. 6 seed, defeated Weber State 25-21, 20-25, 25-20, 13-25, 15-13 on Wednesday night on the Wildcats’ home court in quarterfinal action.

“It was a great team effort,” Aiazzi said. “We scraped and scraped and played through the ugly. When the big moments didn’t go our way, we didn’t lose ourselves, which we have done at times this season. We took a big step forward tonight.”

MSU opened the match pulling away from 16-all with a 4-1 run. WSU evened the set at 20 but following a Bobcat timeout, MSU rattled off a 5-1 run taking the frame on a pair of kills by Kira Thomsen. Thomsen, a junior from Parker, Colorado, notched six first set kills.

Weber State used a late 5-1 run in the second set outhitting the Bobcats .250 to .146. WSU’s Dani Richins closed out the game with a kill to even the match.

The Bobcats turned the table in set three with a 9-3 run at the midway mark to take a 21-15 lead. MSU maintained its margin in the waning moments taking a 2-1 advantage following a kill by Jourdain Klein.

Weber State owned the fourth set out-hitting MSU .335 to -.091. The Wildcats closed out the set on a 20-8 run to force a fifth and deciding set.

“We just told our kids that the performance in the fourth set was all our errors and that we just needed to play clean volleyball,” Aiazzi said. “I think it also helped that we had swept Weber (State) a week ago, and we were confident and comfortable playing in their gym.”

The fifth set featured seven ties in the early going before two Weber State hitting errors gave the Bobcats an 11-9 lead. A Jordan Radick kill moments later put MSU up 13-11 and Weber State called timeout.

During the timeout, Aiazzi subbed in freshman Camryn Greenwald.

Greenwald, along with middle blocker Emma Pence, were both sidelined with injuries, but the product of Woodbury, Minnesota, was cleared to play against Weber State.

Coming out of the timeout, Richins notched a kill to pull WSU to within 13-12. On the next play, Greenwald blocked Richins to give the Bobcats two match points. The Wildcats fought off its first match point on another Richins kill. In the final rally, MSU had numerous attempts to win the point, including two swings from Greenwald, the latter finding the WSU hardwood to give the Bobcats the upset victory.

Thomsen led MSU with 16 kills, while Radick and Courtney Weatherby also hit double-digits with 14 kills, apiece. Thomsen and Weatherby each recorded double doubles adding 15 and 17 digs, respectively.

Defensively, the Bobcats were led by Lauren Lindseth with 24 digs, while Kaycee O’Dell, who was filling in for Pence, paced MSU at the net with a team-high five blocks.

Setters Delaney Shearan and Nellie Reese dished out 23 and 18 assists, respectively.

Montana State will face No. 2 Portland State in semifinal action on Friday at 6 p.m. The Vikings defeated No. 7 Eastern Washington 3-1 on Wednesday.

“Portland State is playing very well right now,” Aiazzi said. “We look forward to playing them. We need to stay aggressive and do a good job with our passing.”

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