MISSOULA, Mont. -- The Montana lacrosse team will host this year’s matchup against in-state rival Montana State on April 6 at 7 p.m. in Washington-Grizzly Stadium. Also on tap will be four marquee high school boys lacrosse contests prior to the evening game.
The rivalry began in 2006, when Montana defeated the 'Cats, 13-8 in Missoula. Montana leads the series 8-5, with Montana State winning the last three contests. Six out of the 13 matchups have been decided by one goal.
“This game is huge. This is the game you have circled on your calendar every year,” Montana coach Tucker Sargent said. “Everyone always asks, ‘Did you beat the Cats this year?’”
The Copper Cup was introduced in 2014. It was locally-made and donated by Copper Mountain Creations in East Missoula. The hardware is worth an estimated $2,400, according to Sargent. What a better way to represent the “Copper State” than a large copper trophy.
The winner gets its name put on the trophy. The Grizzlies have won it three times and MSU took it home twice.
Montana’s eager to bring the Cup back to Missoula after it’s been in the Bobcats’ possession since last season.
Both teams represent different conferences, unlike football and basketball where each team participates in the Big Sky Conference. Montana’s a part of the Pacific Northwest Collegiate Lacrosse League (PNCLL) and MSU is in the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference (RMLC).
Both teams are competitive nationally and in its respective conferences.
“We haven’t beat the 'Cats while I’ve been on the team, so getting that checked off the list is definitely up there.” said junior Aidan Larson.
The University of Great Falls (Providence University) participated in the Copper Cup before the team folded early this season. The programs used a three-team round-robin concept to award the trophy. That’s the reason why Montana still won the trophy in 2016 even though the Grizzlies lost to MSU, 13-9.
When the Griz have trailed the Cats in the past, it’s typically due to a slow start. Montana will need to play a complete game in order to knock off No. 17 Montana State. The No. 14 Griz will look for an early jump to help boost momentum.
“If you look back at the last couple games, we’ve been down and have fought back but it would be too late,” Sargent said. “The key will be to strike first.”
Both coaches understand that this is not only for bragging rights, but also an opportunity to showcase to the youth and high school kids that collegiate lacrosse is alive and relevant in Montana.
“There’s going to be great high school lacrosse all day and I want to really emphasize that Montana is a place where kids can continue to play lacrosse,” Sargent said. “I’ll be recruiting all day.”
“Let’s make this an event, let’s make this bigger than a rivalry game,” said Montana State coach Chris Kelley. “A lot of kids aspire to play lacrosse out of state and this is a great opportunity to showcase the two programs we have to offer in Montana.”
The four high schools participating are Hellgate, Glacier (Kalispell), Great Falls and Bozeman. Each team will participate in doubleheaders starting with Hellgate vs. Glacier at 9 a.m.
The three remaining games will be Bozeman vs. Great Falls at 11 a.m., Glacier vs. Great Falls at 2:30 p.m., and Hellgate vs. Bozeman to cap off the high school games at 4:30 p.m.
Hellgate, Bozeman and Glacier have prestigious lacrosse programs. Great Falls will get an early taste of some tough competition. Bozeman beat Glacier last season for the state championship.
Admission to the high school games are free, while tickets for the Griz-'Cats game will be $10 for adults and free for students and youth lacrosse players. Missoula youth lacrosse will play a game during halftime of the college game. Concessions will be available.
by Lucas Ailport