Brawl of the Wild (copy)

Montana State outside hitter Hannah Scott jumps to save the ball during a volley last season against Montana.

Allyssa Rizzo sat in a hotel lobby with her Montana State teammates, disappointed.

The MSU senior libero who’s coming close to her school’s record for digs recorded just 38 saves in the Bobcats’ two losses on Friday at Loyola Chicago’s tournament.

MSU scheduled the trip in part so Rizzo could play in front of her family and friends in her home state. On that stage, she wanted a better performance.

So she totaled 34 saves in MSU’s four-set win against Loyola Maryland on Saturday to close the tournament for the Bobcats (2-4).

MSU head coach Daniel Jones loves the improvement his team is making this early in the season. He reminds his players often they’re never as bad or good as they think they are. They just need to continue to be better than they were previously.

“Just found ourselves struggling a little bit,” Jones said of last week. “It was great to learn from those struggles and come out and compete Saturday. It was a good weekend all in all.”

Those strides are exactly what he wants to see with just three nonconference matches left this season. Even though the Bobcats graduated just one senior from last year, Jones said only Rizzo and middle blocker Kelsie White return to the positions they played last year.

But the Bobcats are adjusting quickly. Outside hitter Hannah Scott, for example, has excelled at the right side for MSU, leading the team with 69 kills on a .273 attack percentage.

“Growth is the key point this time of year. If we’re learning and growing and having that growth mindset, then it’s a good thing,” Jones said. “We’ve got the talent to do really big things this year. That’s my biggest takeaway, that as we dive into schematic things, it’s going to continue to get better. It’s exciting.”

The Bobcats have a few days to practice instead of play in matches, which Jones said allows them to review and tweak the mistakes they’ve made in live action so far.

MSU plays Texas-El Paso at 4 p.m. Friday and Cal State-Bakersfield at 10 a.m. Saturday at the University of Montana’s tournament. Then the Bobcats host Seattle University in their home opener on Sept. 17 before taking a whole week to practice and prepare for their Big Sky opener at Montana on Sept. 24.

Jones called it an advantage to play in Missoula a week before MSU plays its in-state rivals on the Grizzlies’ home court. In fact, Jones greatly enjoys this part of MSU’s nonconference matches. This practice time to adjust tactically and technically should mean the Bobcats will only continue to grow.

“It’s very much a brand new team, and what we’re seeing is day-to-day improvement,” Jones said. “My excitement and optimism about this group is nothing but elevated each day we get to work with them.”

Colton Pool can be reached at or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.