MISSOULA — It may be November, but the Montana women's soccer team is going dancing.
The Grizzlies won the Big Sky Conference tournament down in Greeley, Colorado over the weekend with a 1-0 decision over Weber State to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament. And on Monday they learned who their first round opponent would be, and it's a familiar one in Washington State.
The Griz and Cougars met in 2018 in the first round of the tournament, where UM lost 5-1.
"Personally, (it's) my last year and everything so I’m just trying to go out with a bang, have fun and I think that’s what a lot of the girls are doing too," senior forward Taylor Stoeger said. "We’ve made it to the tournament so now it’s just have fun and play our best."
The two schools play on Saturday at 6 p.m. MST and the Grizzlies are on a six-game winning streak after winning the conference tournament. They carry 13 wins into their match-up with Washington State, their most since 2000. The Grizzlies (13-5-1) had five players named All-Big Sky for their efforts this season while goalkeeper Camellia Xu was named the conference's goalkeeper of the year.
"When we won it was just a sense of relief that we’ve been working all season," senior defender McKenzie Kilpatrick said. "We’ve been putting in that hard work and those hours just pushing our teammates, pushing each other nonstop so it was just a sense of we did it. It was awesome."
It's the third tournament appearance in four years for Montana, making this year's senior class one of the most successful in program history.
"Feels incredible," senior defender Taylor Hansen said. "This team is awesome and we keep continuing to accomplish great things year after year so it’s just cool to see the program head in that direction.
"Success, it’s not an accident because we keep doing it over and over again. It just goes to show how strong our program is and yeah it’s incredible."
It's been a little less than seven months since Montana won the spring tournament after their fall season in 2020 was postponed. The Grizzlies went 9-2 in the abridged spring season and won the conference tournament in April before playing South Carolina in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
An elongated offseason helped the Grizzlies refocus for this fall to help ease the heavy workload in the calendar year of 2021, making this year's run more special knowing everything the program has overcome since the fall of 2020.
"Preparation was a lot slower than it ever has been," Griz soccer coach Chris Citowicki said. "We even gave them almost an extra month off, some of them did nothing until July to be honest which a lot of people would be surprised with but we weren’t. You need the time off to rest the body, to come back again. We just took our time, we even had weeks that we took a day off of practice just to keep the bodies healthy and we’re extremely healthy going into this game right now."
"It’s so special and I’m so proud of our team," senior midfielder Sami Siems added. "It’s crazy to go, what, six months winning titles back to back like I feel like that’s a really hard thing to do so I’m very proud of this entire team."