Two days after dropping a 1-0 decision on a second-half goal to Creighton, Montana soccer coach Mark Plakorus told the local media he instructs his team not to indulge in the Grizzlies’ results.
It’s been an important instruction as a team built on a bedrock of freshmen and sophomores has already experienced a pretty tumultuous season.
After a 0-0 tie with Wyoming to start the season, the Griz won their next two before allowing six goals in a loss at Utah Valley State.
Upon their return to South Campus Stadium, Montana lost to undefeated Washington State on an overtime goal and then topped Iowa two days later 1-0.
Confidence was riding high until Purdue came to Missoula and put three shots in the back of the net during the first half of a 3-1 win over UM that preceded the loss to Creighton.
At 3-4-1, Plakorus and his team don’t seem concerned. With 26 players with no more than two years of playing experience on the roster, the Grizzlies expected a difficult nonconference schedule was likely to yield such results.
“We knew there were going to be some ups and downs and things,” Plakorus said Tuesday during Montana’s weekly news conference.
But as fans and pundits zero in on the Grizzlies’ record, Plakorus has implored his team to focus more acutely on the progress it has made offensively and defensively without a list of players the Griz lost due to graduation and injuries.
Montana graduated All-Big Sky first-team mids Tyler Adair and Chloe Torres and then lost freshman sensation Hallie Widner and junior-to-be Savannah Witt to injuries during the offseason.
Plakorus has responded by shuffling his roster and asking some players to operate out of positions previously unfamiliar. The outcomes are hard to decipher from the outside, but Montana’s fifth-year coach said that with all things considered he isn’t distressed with where the Griz are before they travel to Santa Barbara on Friday to play the Gauchos.
“Results don’t always show growth and that’s why we always tell our team don’t look at results, look at the way we’re playing and the things that we’re doing,” Plakorus said. “I like how we’re coming along.”
Montana’s varied results have rested equally upon the shoulders of the offense and defense. But while both sides of the field have had their hands in victories, each has been inconsistent.
Montana scored four goals in an overtime win over Indiana State, but registered just a single score in the other two wins. Defensively, the Griz allowed six goals to Utah Valley and then three more during the first half of the loss to Purdue.
Directed by All-Big Sky goalkeeper Kailey Norman, the defense also shut out previously high-scoring Iowa and held Wazzu scoreless until the final minute of overtime.
Regardless, the inconsistencies haven’t caused any internal conflict, Norman said.
“I just have to trust my team that they’re going to get it done,” she said. “I have to do my job as a goalkeeper to not let the ball in the back of the net. If I’m able to do so awesome and hopefully the other side of the field will do so, too. I think it’s all about trust.”
After nine days on their home field, Montana will get back on the road with a 6 p.m. kickoff in Santa Barbara. Friday’s match with the Gauchos begins a three-game road trip that brings the Griz to their first two road conference opponents.
Montana opens Big Sky play Sept. 25 at North Dakota before heading to Northern Colorado two days later.
Plakorus said getting the Grizzlies away from the distractions that can pop up while playing at home could help the team refocus before its final tune-up for conference play.
“You’re on the road and we can control the environment a little better in the hotel and they can get a lot of rest,” Plakorus said. “I think it’s a good thing to go on the road and be able to go into different environments.”
Playing at Harder Stadium, where the Gauchos haven’t lost this season, will be an opportune setting for the Griz to learn in adverse conditions, Plakorus said.
“It will be hostile,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of people, it’s going to be loud -- it’s a great environment to go into and I’m looking forward to it.”