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Two more shutouts, another honor for Xu

02 Dec 2021 | 07:56 | Football

The Montana soccer team went into the season with a big question. Who would step out of the shadow of record-setting Claire Howard and step up to the challenge of replacing the Big Sky Conference’s career leader in shutouts?

The answer: Camellia Xu, who made history on Tuesday by becoming the first Grizzly to earn Big Sky Defensive Player of the Week honors three times in a single season.

The redshirt freshman was recognized for helping Montana to a pair of 1-0 shutouts on the road as Montana opened its league schedule with wins at Northern Arizona on Friday and Southern Utah on Sunday.

She combined to make 13 saves against the Lumberjacks, who were picked first in the preseason coaches’ poll, and Thunderbirds. The clean sheets dropped Xu’s goals-against average to 0.76 and upped her save percentage to .857.

Her six shutouts in her first eight complete games played are one off the program record for shutouts by a freshman. Howard had seven in 2017, Grace Harris had seven in 2006.

There is only one other freshman in the entire nation, Wake Forest’s Kaitlyn Parks with seven, who has posted more shutouts this season.

“The scary thing is that she’s just getting started,” said Montana coach Chris Citowicki. “She doesn’t have that presence yet that Claire had as a senior, where every team was like, I don’t know how we’re going to score against this team today.

“Cam doesn’t have that yet and she won’t until she’s a junior or senior. She still has to go through some stuff and has things to fix, but you can already tell that she’s going to be special.”

Montana, which hasn’t allowed a goal since Sept. 5 or in more than 465 minutes, has posted five straight shutout wins for just the fourth time in program history. The record is six, set by the 2012 team.

Betsy Duerksen’s 1997 and 2000 teams also had five consecutive shutout wins. Her 1996 team had seven consecutive shutouts but one was a scoreless draw.

Xu spent last year watching matches from the sideline as Howard finished her decorated career with 32 shutouts. She was the Big Sky Goalkeeper of the Year as a senior.

“Cam was mentored really well by Claire. We were lucky how it turned out,” said Citowicki. “She was able to see how she was successful and the things she was doing and then train alongside her.

“She came in with a high base, then she also got a lot from Claire. Pile that on top and you’ve got a kid who is doing extremely well.”

Montana (6-4-0, 2-0-0 BSC) will host Sacramento State (1-6-2, 0-1-0 BSC) on Friday at 3 p.m. at South Campus Stadium, Portland State (3-5-0, 1-0-0 BSC) on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Montana, Weber State (5-5-0, 2-0-0 BSC) and Northern Colorado (4-6-2, 2-0-0 BSC) sit atop the Big Sky standings after the first of five weekends of league matches.