Mepham_Volleyball

UM Volleyball Coach Alison Lawrence stands in front of a recently decorated wall in her office with photos from previous volleyball seasons on Nov. 30. Griz volleyball coach Alison Lawrence has lead Montana to achieving its most wins since 1999. 

Allison Lawrence is the first Montana volleyball coach since the legendary Dick Scott to win Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, but her rise to one of the University’s best seasons in decades wouldn’t come without starting at the bottom.

Lawrence was named Coach of the Year during the team’s stay in Ogden, Utah, during the Big Sky Conference volleyball tournament this fall.

Even though the team lost to Sacramento State in four sets, it would end what is one of University of Montana volleyball’s most productive years in terms of stats and record.

“It was really meaningful,” Lawrence said. “It was one of my favorite weeks, probably of like my career and in coaching for a lot of reasons. I think just namely with getting to be with a team that has such a wonderful personality, and they’re kind of a joy to do really hard stuff with and to compete with.”

Montana scored its first winning season since 2013 while notching the best win percentage since 1999. That combines with All-Big Sky Conference selections for hitter Paige Clark, first team, and setter Carly Anderson, second team.

Success hinged on former Oregon State standout and head coach, Lawrence.

As an assistant coach, Lawrence saw firsthand the early struggles of UM volleyball. She was part of teams that would earn 20 or more losses in back-to-back seasons.

After former UM volleyball head coach Brian Doyon resigned in 2017, the reins went to Lawrence, who had been in the Montana system for seven seasons by that point.

Lawrence was handed a team that had combined for six conference wins its previous two seasons, a team filled with recruits from previous coaches.

Her head coaching debut had expected road bumps: a new coach, a team that had to adjust to a new play style and the growing pains that come with losing out for so many seasons in the Big Sky. Lawrence and the Griz would end with an 8-21 record.

But improvements happened almost immediately the next season.

“I wasn’t new to this place,” Lawrence said. “And so I think that offered me a choice to really work to build belief and instill the values that I thought, in the end, would create the strongest team and the strongest program for the people that were there, rather than come in new, not know anyone, and clean house.”

The Grizzlies improved to 10 wins, including a three-game win streak to start the conference season. With a slight drop off in 2019 and a shortened 2020-21 season, the losing ways returned for a team adjusting to changing health restrictions.

But in 2021, there was a spark. Lawrence’s young squad would wrangle in 11 wins and a Big Sky Conference tournament berth. The Griz played better on the road, found more success at home and were finally following the Lawrence identity.

Then 2022 happened. The accolades, the 17-12 record, the best in decades --- it all came together. Even with an early tournament exit, UM volleyball became the anomaly. A team that exceeded its preseason prediction became Lawrence’s first positive win record as a head coach.

If you are a Griz volleyball fan, you will notice one thing that keeps this squad afloat --- positivity. The moment you look to the bench, even when the scoring streaks are cold, there is dancing and smiles across the roster.

“Having been an athlete, knowing how hard the hard moments are, I think, allows you as a coach to really embrace the triumphs of your players, but also the shortcomings and the moments where they fall short and they fail,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence understands that every award, every celebration and every game is a team effort. 

The defining moments of the 2022 season sit neatly in frames on Lawrence’s office wall. Most of these are from the team’s two victories against the in-state rival Montana State Bobcats. But she’s looking ahead to the next season. 

“The general sentiment is they’re really excited to get back into the gym, which this time of year, we need a little break,” Lawrence said. “So I think for them to be verbalizing that they cannot wait to get back to work, I think they feel the momentum that they’ve created.”

UM volleyball season wrapped with a 3-1 loss in the conference tournament. Next fall, nearly every starter will return, including All-Big Sky First Team outside hitter Clark and All-Big Sky Conference Second Team setter Anderson.