Cat spikers look to improve under new management

J.J. Riley, the new volleyball coach at Montana State, faces a tall order. After a string of disappointing seasons for the women’s volleyball team, the program once again faced the process of rebuilding. In January, MSU Athletic Director Peter Fields tapped Riley as the man to lead the Cats out of the basement.

Riley was most recently an assistant at the University of Utah and before that coached at both the University of Southern California and at his alma mater, Pepperdine University, where he also played. At Utah, the Utes found a high degree of success and earned trips to the NCAA tournament. There, Riley primarily coordinated much of the offense, especially at setter and outside hitter.

Not to say that the Cats were awful the last few seasons, in fact the young team showed flashes of potential. Even with a record of 7-21 last season, the team showed improvement but too often just couldn’t quite put all the pieces together at the same time. Close game after close game, the Bobcats just ended up on the wrong side of close calls and mental errors. Throughout the season they appeared to learn from their mistakes and missteps and ended the season on a very high note, smashing the University of Montana Grizzlies in straight sets with a decisive 3-0 victory. This was not enough to keep former coach Kyle Weindel on board though and his contract was not renewed after the season.

Now Riley takes over the promising squad but is not without his own set of challenges. On a squad with only two seniors, outside hitter Eli Svisco and middle blocker Natalee Godfrey, the team still has a lot of question marks. The Cats will also face a full slate of early season action, with tournaments at Sam Houston State, University of Nevada and the Air Force Academy, all before kicking off the grueling Big Sky Conference schedule.  

The Cats will begin that portion of their schedule at home against Idaho State on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. and then turn around and face the Grizzlies on the 26, again at 7 p.m. Both games will take place in Schroyer Gym. Much of their first half schedule takes place at home while in the second half of the season road trips will test the developing MSU squad.  

Home volleyball games:

Sept. 24 – Idaho State, 7 p.m.

Sept. 26 – University of Montana, 7 p.m.

Oct. 8 – Souther Utah, 7 p.m.

Oct. 10 – Northern Utah, 12 p.m.

Oct. 15 – Eastern Washington, 7 p.m.

Oct. 17 – Idaho, 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 – North Dakota, 7 p.m.

Nov. 7 – Northern Colorado, 7 p.m.