(Editor's note: University of Montana media release)
MISSOULA -- Montana sophomore Ellie Scherffius was named the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, but that shouldn't come as a surprise to those who watched the middle blocker play.
She was in double figures for kills in all three matches, hitting .455 or above in each match, as well. At the end of the weekend, she led the Griz for kills (2.92 per set) and attacking (.500 hitting percentage) and on defense averaged 0.92 blocks per set (second). She was named tournament MVP after Montana went 3-0 to win the UND Classic – the program's first 3-0 weekend since 2005.
Scherffius is just a sophomore, but she came into the season ready to play.
Growing up in both Billings, Montana, and Eagle River, Alaska, Scherffius played volleyball, but likely not to the level that many Division-I volleyball players did. Initially, she wasn't sure that she even wanted to play volleyball in college and was mulling more track offers than volleyball (she's a state champion in both the states of Montana and Alaska).
Once she decided on volleyball and chose Montana as the destination, her athleticism was real. But so too was her rawness and limited playing experience.
The initial plan last year was to redshirt Scherffius, who only played two years of club volleyball because it conflicted with track season. When the fall 2020 season got moved to the spring – and everyone was given a free year of eligibility due to COVID-19 – the redshirt was pulled and she was given occasional time on the court, playing in 15 sets across six matches.
At the end of the year, her stat line read four kills and three blocks, with two of the kills and two of the blocks coming in the final match of the season, after a teammate went down with an injury.
That injury, in fact, is how Scherffius got to this moment today.
Given her work ethic and natural athletic ability, no one would have counted Scherffius out to be a starter this fall. But it is also a fact that both of Montana's middle blockers who started every match during the spring season are still on the roster today, the difference being that sophomore Madi Chuhlantseff is currently rehabbing her way back from a knee injury that will keep her sidelined the entire season.
However she got to this point – whether it was Scherffius' hard work that earned a starting role or her simply taking advantage of an open opportunity and running with it, or likely a combination of both – everyone is benefiting from it.
She is averaging 2.13 kills per set (second on the team, three total kills away from the leader) and on defense is adding 0.92 blocks per set (top 10 in the Big Sky and second on the team, one block back from first). Most impressive, through nine matches this fall, Scherffius leads the entire Big Sky for hitting (.421).
For comparison, No. 2 in the Big Sky is significantly lower at .364.
Scherffius has been lights out for the Grizzlies, recording 10 or more kills in five of nine matches and hitting above .500 five times, as well. On defense, she's led Montana for blocking four times.
In her first career start, a five-set win over Kennesaw State, Scherffius led the Grizzlies with 15 kills and six blocks, and hit at a .650 clip. Later that afternoon, vs. Eastern Michigan, she was nearly perfect with nine kills and zero errors on 11 swings (.818 hitting). She again added six more blocks.
In three matches at the UND Classic, Scherffius was in double figures for kills each time. Averaging a team-best 2.92 kills per set, she did so while hitting an astonishing .500 for the weekend (38-6-64).
In a five-set win over Green Bay, she finished with 15 kills on .520 hitting. She was good throughout, but best late in the match, when she accounted for seven of Montana's 15 points in the fifth set (five kills, two blocks). She started the set with back-to-back kills before scoring four of five points during a 5-0 Montana run that flipped a 10-8 deficit into a 13-10 lead.
On Saturday, in a come-from-behind win over a Drake team that will likely contend for a Missouri Valley Conference title, Scherffius was a major part of the comeback, recording five kills and two blocks in the third set alone. Later that night vs. North Dakota, Scherffius' lone mistake came midway through the first set. From that point forward, she was an unstoppable force, recording eight kills and zero errors on 14 swings (.571 hitting) as Montana finished off the sweep to earn the tournament title.