How badly do the Montana Grizzlies want to host this year's Big Sky Conference soccer tournament? If Friday's performance was any indication, it's the only thing on their minds.
Montana's offense came out flying and its defense played as well as it has all season as the Grizzlies laid a 5-1 pasting on conference foe Cal State-Northridge at South Campus Field.
Montana coach Betsy Duerksen said it was the best her team has looked all year.
"Even this week during practice it really seemed we were starting to put all the different pieces together," she said. "Maybe we're peaking at the right moment."
Forwards Heather Olson and Amy Wronski each scored a pair of goals for Montana, which improved to 5-1 in conference play. Northridge dropped to 2-2-2.
Montana needs to win or tie its final regular-season game Sunday at home against Northern Arizona to secure the league title and the right to host the tournament beginning next Thursday.
Idaho State (4-1-1) is in second place after its 2-1 double-overtime win over Sacramento State on Thursday and faces Big Sky doormat Portland State Saturday. If the Bengals win, the Griz would need no worse than a tie to claim the host's role.
But in order to get that opportunity, the Grizzlies knew what they had to do Friday, and that was take care of business early.
Four minutes into the game, Olson broke out of a two-game goal scoring drought with her 11th goal of the year, taking a great lead pass from midfielder Jodi Campbell to give UM a 1-0 lead. Less than two minutes later it was Wronski, also taking a Campbell feed, who scored to produce a two-goal cushion. Wronski actually had to beat Matadors' goalkeeper Jenny Willemse to the ball, elude the diving keeper, then shoot it into the net.
Olson got her second goal of the game at 23:04 when she cut through the goal box and deposited yet another Campbell pass low into the right side of the net. Campbell had three assists, all in the first half, giving her a team-leading nine this season.
After her brief scoring hiatus, Olson, the team's leading goal scorer, said it felt good to contribute on the score sheet.
"I took two great passes, so it would have been my fault if I would have missed those," she said. "Scoring is just one of those things that comes and goes. (Jodi's) really been on with her passing these last few games. She's just putting the ball right on our feet and making our job easy."
The Grizzlies had an unusually large amount of room to roam on the field, especially inside and just outside the goal box. Passing lanes were wide-open all day, and the Grizzlies took advantage.
"It's a weird thing," Duerksen said. "Northridge hasn't been giving up a lot of goals all year. We were expecting to have a difficult time breaking down their defense."
Statistically, Willemse came into Friday's game as the best goalkeeper in the conference, leading the Big Sky in goals-against-average (0.76) and shutouts (6.5). But she hadn't faced an offense like this one yet, and the Grizzlies put a dent into her impressive resume.
Wronski's second goal came just 1:17 into the second half on a pass from Nikki Bolstad. The goal was Wronski's eighth of the season. Sophomore midfielder Erin Smith joined the party at 76:51, tallying UM's fifth goal of the game and her first of the year on a perfect shot that started outside the right post and tucked inside the left one.
The Matadors eluded the shutout in mop-up duty when Kerrie Clavadetscher shot the ball high over Griz keeper Katie Peck at 82:51. Peck replaced starter Natalie Hiller with about 20 minutes to play in the game.
"(Sunday), we just need to continue putting good D together with good offense," Duerksen said of the contest against NAU. "A lot of our season we've defended well and then counter-attacked. We just need to focus on keeping those two together."
The Grizzlies face the Lumberjacks Sunday at 1 p.m. at South Campus Field.
UM - Heather Olson (Jodi Campbell), 4:53
UM - Amy Wronski (Campbell), 6:07
UM - Olson (Campbell), 23:04
UM - Wronski (Bolstad), 46:17
UM - Erin Smith (Joanna Bowns), 76:51
CSUN - Kerri Clavadetscher (Brynne Blumstein), 82:51
Shots - Northridge 19, Montana 24. Corners - Northridge 2, Montana 3. Saves - Northridge 9 (Jenny Willemse), Montana 10 (Natalie Hiller, Katie Peck). Total fouls - Northridge 17, Montana 8. Yellow cards - Northridge 1 (Blumstein 70:29), Montana 0. Red cards - none. Attendance - 420