Frey Helping Revive Montana’s Soccer Program

By Beacon Staff

Last week the University of Montana women’s soccer team finished an unexpected turnaround season that included its first Big Sky Conference title in 11 years and a hard-fought NCAA tournament match against the best team in the country.

Flathead Valley soccer fans should not be surprised by one of the core players leading the program’s turnaround.

Kalispell native Maddey Frey, a 2010 Glacier High School graduate who was one of the state’s best prep players, is now a sophomore at Montana and one of head coach Mark Plakorus’ leaders on the field.

Voted the team’s Newcomer of the Year last season, Maddey was one of five players who started all 22 matches this season. She played the second most minutes on the team, which finished the season 6-12-4. That record may seem unremarkable, but compared to recent history this season can certainly be deemed a successful step forward.

Montana had only won a total of 16 matches the last four seasons. Last year’s team was shut out 11 times and scored only eight goals. Entering this fall, the Grizzlies were picked sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll under first-year head coach Plakorus. The program was far removed from 10 years ago, when Montana was the pride of the Big Sky and had won three conference titles (’97, ’99, ’00) in four seasons and won 117 games between 1994-2004.

Plakorus began trying to rebuild that successful tradition this season, and Maddey played an important role in that.

“I can’t say enough about what she does for our team,” Plakorus said. “She is a fantastic player and a fantastic teammate. She’s definitely one of the hardest-working players on the team and very well respected by her teammates.”

The Grizzlies quietly entered the Big Sky Conference tournament ranked fourth. Then they stunned top-ranked host Northern Colorado University in a shootout and advanced to the title match for the first time since 2004. Against third-ranked Weber State University, which beat Montana earlier in the season, the Grizzlies won in exciting fashion once again, winning the Big Sky title in another shootout, only the second time in history that has happened. The win clinched a seed in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000.

The Grizzlies’ first round opponent on Nov. 11 was daunting: Stanford (19-0-1). The Cardinal became just the second school in history to finish unbeaten for three straight regular seasons and had not lost at home in 46 matches. This year’s senior class has a total regular season record of 75-1-1.

“They are quite possibly the best college team ever put together,” Plakorus said.

Which is why Montana’s performance stands out as memorable.

Maddey and the Grizzlies’ defense held the Cardinal scoreless for 39 minutes. As Stanford Sports Information described in a game story released from the school: “Stanford may not have expected a challenge on Friday night, but got one anyway.”

Frey chases down a ball during a game.

The unbeaten Cardinal eventually broke open the game with a goal and went on to win 3-0. The team is still playing in the tournament.

That game certainly won’t be forgotten by Montana players, and, in fact, could end up being a big part of Montana’s rebuilding process, Plakorus said.

“Being able to compete like that against (Stanford) is something the team will always remember,” Plakorus said. “You always want to measure yourself and what better way than doing it against the best team in the country. I was very proud of the team and how they represented themselves, the university and the state of Montana.”

Maddey definitely knew what her team was facing when it took the field in California. She takes pride in the fact that the Grizzlies made the best team in the country sweat.

“We played them really well I thought,” she said. “They actually had to work hard to get those goals.”

Maddey’s stat line would be perplexing for fans who were used to seeing the former Wolfpack forward scorch defenses as one of the most dangerous goal scorers in the state. Maddey graduated as the two-time Western AA player of the year and was also a state champion sprinter in track. But once at college, she was given the difficult task of moving to the other end of the pitch as a defensive player, a position she had never really played.

“It’s a completely different mentality on defense,” she said. “On offense if I missed a chance at scoring a goal, there’s always another opportunity to try again. But on defense if I mess up it could be a goal and that could be the difference in the game. You definitely need a lot more focus on defense.”

Maddey quickly adapted to her new position, defensive outside back, and has not given up the starting spot since earning it during her freshman year.

“She’s a very driven person,” her coach said. “She’s very smart and picks up on things quickly and adjusts to things well.”

Plakorus knew when he took over as head coach at Montana that he could count on Maddey. He remembered seeing her play when she was growing up in Kalispell and Plakorus was involved in the annual summer Flathead Soccer Camp. She stood out then as someone with a bright future, and that future is now coming to fruition.

“It’s great to have a Montana kid being so instrumental in what we’re doing,” he said.

The challenges of transitioning from offense to defense have been among the many changes for Maddey since graduating from high school. The college game is much faster than her prep days, even for a former state champion sprinter. And life off the field as a student-athlete involves dedication and organization that isn’t common for most young college students. She still has managed to earn Academic All Big Sky Conference.

Having a few familiar faces in a foreign place always helps, such as her close friend Shay Smithwick-Hann, a fellow Glacier High graduate and a quarterback on the Montana football team.

“It’s been a lot easier for me to adapt to everything because I already have some friends here,” she said.

And her parents, Roland and Tracy, are still cheering from the stands at every home game like they did at Glacier High.

All of that combined with a newfound taste of winning is keeping Maddey motivated. A few days after the loss to Stanford, she said she is already counting the days until soccer season returns.

“This has been a great opportunity to be able to continue playing and getting an education,” she said. “Of course we don’t experience the college life like other students do, but that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make to win championships.”