By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech’s season ended on a boom on Saturday. There were no whimpers.
The Orediggers slugged it out with Providence of Great Falls in falling 25-22, 25-18, 21-25 25-19 during the semifinals of the Frontier Conference volleyball tournament at the Montana Tech HPER Complex with the visitors
The Argos rode the hitting of Kelsey Shaver, 22 kills with a .475 percentage, and 6-foot-3 Sydney Andersen, 17 and .286, into the championship match versus Rocky Mountain later Saturday evening in the single-elimination competition.
“They were tough,” Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon offered about Shaver and Anderson. “The best hitters were scoring in this match — Masha (Korol) for us and Kelsey for them.”
Korol, one of just two Oredigger seniors, collected 19 kills on .409 hitting as the squads went after each other with haymakers from all over the court.
“We had some untimely errors,” Solomon. “Mostly, we had trouble getting stops and scoring on our serve. Their hitters were playing at another level. Kelsey didn’t slow down. I was hoping she would.”
Providence pulled away in the first game on a serving run by Cydney Finberg. She started at 16-14 and fired three straight serves that ended in Argo points, including a capping kill by Lauren Brown. Providence reached set point at 24-20 on a kill by Shaver. Montana Tech scored on a kill by Kacee James and tip by Sydney Parks before the Argonauts ended the set on a tip by Isabelle Parker. Shaver pounded eight kills in the set.
Anderson hit six kills in the second game as Providence took a two-game lead in the match. A serving error by Oredigger Karina Mickelson allowed for Providence to take the last lead, but early in the set at 6-5. Providence, however, was able to build on the slight advantage and used a strong serving run by Averi Dyer to open a 23-14 gap. Three straight blocks by Anderson, Brown and Ember Schwindt centered the surge. The Orediggers rallied and the Argos’ set point didn’t come until an Anderson kill made the score 24-18. A shot by Mickelson traveled long over the end line, finishing the set.
Montana Tech led almost the entire third set, going ahead 8-7 on a Mickelson kill and then keeping a tentative lead. The biggest difference was five points three times, the last at 23-18 after a net violation was called against the Argonauts. A Mickelson kill off a Hannah Liss set put set point at 24-21 and then Schwindt was whistled for a net violation while blocking on James. The play ended the set. Mickelson hit four kills in it.
Providence controlled the lead early in the fourth game, then had to duel it out with strong-rallying Montana Tech. The Orediggers scrambled, were not as accurate, overall, on their shots and the Argonauts prevailed. A double-hit called against Kamaile Moody let the Argos go ahead 9-8 and they fought Montana Tech off the rest of the way. The Orediggers closed to within a point four times down the stretch, 16-15 on a block by James 17-16 on a Mickelson kill, 19-18 on an ace serve by Sabrina Hopcroft and 20-19 on a kill by Heather Thompson. Providence, though, fended the Orediggers off each time, the last time on an Anderson kill for a 21-19 edge. The Argonauts then served out with Finberg at the line and capped the match on two plays by Brown — a block for set point and a kill for the last point.
“I thought we were playing awfully hard,” Solomon said. “We were going after everything, but sometimes coming up short.”
The coach indicated he thought the match by Korol was one of her best two of the season. The standout from the Ukraine reigned as the 2017 Frontier Conference Player of the Year and followed in 2018 with another showcase season.
“She played like this at Lewis-Clark State, too,” Solomon said of another of the Korol gems.
He agreed that this season was a learning experience for the rebuilding, or reloading, Orediggers, who entered the campaign as the defending Frontier champions, but had graduated several of their top players from the previous couple of seasons.
“We had two seniors this year,” Solomon said. “They played significant roles for us. We have a lot of growth to do. There can’t be a lot of downtime for us.”
The Orediggers finished with a 17-15 record. Mickelson had nine kills to back Korol, and setters Moody and Liss combined for 41 assists. Hopcroft came up with 24 digs, Korol had 16 and Mickelson 11. Hopcroft also fired three ace serves. Thompson posted five blocks and Mickelson had four.
Providence took a 21-9 record into the finale versus Rocky Mountain. The winner of the championship match will advance to the NAIA Tournament. Frontier Conference Commissioner Kent Paulson said he thought both of the Frontier finalists will likely go on with the runner-up receiving an at-large bid.
Paige Jensen had 28 assists for the Argonauts against Montana Tech, and Shaver splatted three aces on her serve to with 19 digs on defense. Jensen’s 20 digs led the Argos’ floor defense while Brown led it at the net with three blocks.