By Bill Foley
Thursday will be a banner night at the HPER Complex.
The Montana Tech arena will also be the site of one of the best rivalries in the NAIA as Carroll College comes to town to take on the Orediggers.
The women’s game opens the doubleheader at 5:30 p.m. The men will tip off at 7:30 p.m. The games can be heard live on KBOW (550 AM, 101.5 FM, online at kbow550.net or on the new KBOW app).
Montana Tech’s volleyball team, the first Oredigger squad to capture the Frontier Conference crown in 27 years, will raise its conference championship banner and an NAIA Sweet 16 banner at halftime of the men’s game.
The Saints will be bringing a pair of Top 25 teams to town. The Carroll men are ranked No. 2 in the nation, for now, while the women are tied for No. 24.
The Carroll women, who beat Boise State in an exhibition game in November, sit atop the league standings at 4-1. The Saints are 12-4 overall, and that doesn’t count the win at Boise.
Hannah Dean, a 6-foot-1 junior post player from Gardiner, leads the Saints into first of three games between the rivals.
Dean, who is once again the reigning Frontier Conference Player of the Week, averages 12.88 points per game. She’s also pulling down a league-leading 8.6 rebounds per game.
Senior guard Bailey Pasta adds 9.8 points per game to the lineup for the Saints, who won their last five games.
Michaela Dowdy, 6-1 senior post from Helena, is averaging 9.0 points per game after tossing in 21 in Tuesday’s 58-56 overtime win over Rocky Mountain College in Helena.
The game will likely be the biggest test of the season so far for Oredigger sophomore post players Shay Potter and Kaylee Zard.
The last time they played on the Kelvin Sampson Court, they Tech post players had a field day.
The 6-1 Potter scored a career-high 25 points while pulling down 11 rebounds as the Orediggers took down MSU-Northern last Thursday. Zard, who is generously listed at 6-foot, came off the bench to score 10 points and grab eight rebounds.
Potter averages a team-best 11.9 points for the Orediggers, who saw a cold second half end Tech’s three-game winning streak with a 71-61 loss to The University of Providence Saturday in Great. Falls. She also averages 7.6 rebounds.
Zard adds 6.7 points per game while lead the team with 7.7 rebounds.
Junior guard Kourtney Coverdell joins Potter averaging in double figures scoring. She is tossing in 10.9 points per game.
Junior Sammy McGree, who is doing most of her damage off the bench, averages 9.5 points per game, while senior Monica Landdeck is scoring 8.5.
Junior point guard Hannah Sparks is averaging 7.6 points, and freshman Mesa Williams is coming off the bench to join Zard with 6.7.
In the men’s game, the Orediggers will be looking for their first conference win of the season. Tech takes an 0-3 and 8-6 record into the contest.
Tech was trailing 33-31 when a malfunction with the backboard at Providence delayed the game. The second half of that game will be played next week.
While the Orediggers are winless in conference, they feel like they could have won two of their three Frontier games.
John Chapman, a senior guard from Frenchtown, continues to lead the team in scoring, even though most of his action is off the bench. Chapman is averaging 14.1 points per game.
Senior guard Chris O’Neill and sophomore guard Jake Miles both average 11.3 points per game.
Trent Molesworth, a 6-7 senior, played his best game as an Oredigger last week. Molesworth scored 17 points, even though he went cold from 3-poit land.
Freshman Derrius Collins (8.9 points per game) and sophomore Dylan Pannabecker (8.2) are just under double digits.
Freshman Nick Fitts (8.2) missed last week’s games because of an injury.
The Saints will surely drop in the rankings when the next poll is released. Carroll fell at home to Lewis-Clark State last week. The Saints fell 59-53 at home to Rocky Mountain College on Tuesday.
Before that, however, Carroll won its first 15 games.
Ryan Imhoff, a 6-6 senior guard, is the hands-down favorite to take home the Frontier Conference MVP award. The Napa, California, native has been named the Frontier Conference Player of the Week four times so far this season, and many argued it should have been at least five.
He leads the league in points per game (21.2) and steals (2.9). He also leads the Saints in rebounds (6.5) and blocks (1.2). Imhoff scored 20 points in Tuesday’s loss.
Imhoff is one of three Saints averaging in double figures. Match Burnham, a 6-8 junior forward, is tossing in 15.4 points per game, while Matt Wyman, a 6-7 junior guard from Great Falls, is scoring at a 14.1 clip.
For the Orediggers, Thursday is the first of two twin bills this week. Tech will travel to Billings to take on Rocky Mountain College on Saturday.