Freshman McKenzie Warren scored her first collegiate goal in the 73rd minute, and junior Kailey Norman made a season-high eight saves to lead Montana to a 1-0 victory over previously unbeaten Iowa on Sunday at South Campus Stadium.
The Grizzlies improved to 3-2-1 with the win, the third for Montana in program history against a team from the Big Ten, while Iowa dropped to 4-1-0.
Warren’s game-winner came directly in front of the Iowa goal. Sophomore Aspen Peifer’s header went off the right post, which got Iowa goalkeeper Hannah Clark out of position, and the ball made its way to the feet of Warren, who quickly found herself surrounded by Hawkeye defenders.
The players scrummed for what felt like 10 seconds before Warren finally powered the ball across the goal line.
“I think I touched it four times before it actually went into the goal,” said Warren. “I just tried to battle while bouncing off people left and right. You’ve just got to stay with it and do what you’ve got to do.”
That Montana struck first was a surprise after Iowa had gained the upper hand through most of the first half. The Hawkeyes outshot the Grizzlies 9-3 through the first 45 minutes, but they never could solve Norman or the defenders in front of her.
How the first half essentially played out: In the 25th minute Iowa took a shot that was saved by Norman. The rebound went to another Iowa player, and her shot at a keeperless goal was knocked down by center back Tess Brenneman. Another Iowa shot was then blocked by another Montana defender.
Three shots in 14 seconds. A Norman save, a team save for Brenneman and a blocked shot, one of three that Montana’s back line snuffed out in the first half before the ball could even reach Norman.
“My backs did amazing today. They had some pretty good shooters, so we had to be ready nonstop. Tess and all my backs did a great job at blocking shots,” said Norman, who faced a steady barrage of 19 shots, nine coming in the first half, 10 in the second that kept the keeper involved throughout.
“I actually think it’s easier in games like this, because you’re always engaged. When you’re in a game that you’re only facing one shot a half, there is more chance to mess up. I like this better.”
Montana hadn’t put together a quality Sunday effort this season, and the Grizzlies weren’t at their best in the early going against Iowa. They put just a single shot on goal in the first half, freshman Ellie Otteson’s header in the 16th minute, but still went into the break in a scoreless tie.
“I didn’t think we were as sharp in the first half as we were on Friday (against Washington State),” said coach Mark Plakorus. “We were a little bit reactive to things.
“We wanted to move the ball a little bit quicker in the second half and quit trying for longer balls. We tried to play a little shorter, and that gave us a little more possession and opened some things up for us.”
Montana continued to get outshot in the second half, though by a smaller margin, and the Grizzlies were finally able to have some possession deep in the Iowa end. Those efforts culminated in Warren’s goal.
“McKenzie’s goal was just hard work,” said Plakorus. “We talk all the time that when the ball’s in the box, you’ve got to be hungry for it. You might get hit pretty good, but you’ve got to sacrifice and keep fighting.”
From there Montana held on. Iowa took three corner kicks and six shots in the final 16 minutes. Two of those corners led directly to shots. One was saved by Norman, the other went wide right.
Iowa’s final shot, with 42 seconds left, was a rocket from 30 yards out. With nobody between her and the ball, Norman climbed the ladder and punched the ball high of the goal. The Hawkeyes’ last-gasp corner kick with less than 30 seconds left did not produce anything dangerous.
“That’s a good team we beat today. Their attack is very good, and they gave us a lot of problems. The players they have up top are very strong and powerful,” said Plakorus, whose team put just three shots on goal, got outshot 19-10 and had no corner kicks to Iowa’s seven.
“We got a bit fortunate at times, but that’s soccer. That’s just how the game’s played. At the same time, our defenders came up big when they needed to, as did Kailey.”
The Grizzlies will play their final nonconference home matches of the season when they host the Montana Cup. Montana will face Purdue at 5 p.m. on Friday and Creighton at 2 p.m. on Sunday.