Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon was surprisingly and justifiably upbeat after the Orediggers fell 25-17, 25-18, 25-22 to Biola Saturday night, wrapping up the Butte half of the Big Sky Volleyball Classic in the HPER Complex.
The Orediggers were tough against the national power from La Mirada, CAlifornia. Biola is ranked eight in the NAIA and was the runner-up to fellow Classic contestant Texas-Brownsville in the 2013 NAIA National Championship match.
Montana Tech seemed to lack only in the first game, looking a bit overwhelmed before realizing it could play with the well-reputed Eagles.
“I think that was a very fun match,” Solomon said after the loss, one that gave his team a 2-2 record for the showcase tourney. Losses were to last year’s national finalist, having been swept by Brownsville on Friday night.
“Biola played lights out,” Solomon continued. “Amy (Weststeyn) is an All-American and she hit .600 against us. They’re very strong in the middle.”
Weststeyn, a 6-foot-3 senior who somehow must have eluded Division I scouts, actually hit .625 with 10 kills an no errors. She dominated the second game.
The Orediggers wound up playing so well they tried to extend the match down two games to none going into the third set.
“I told them to green-light the serving,” Solomon said. “We tried to take risks late in our serving to see what happened.”
However, too many of the go-for-broke serves missed and Montana Tech found itself with serving errors stacked against its efforts.
“(The Eagles) were siding-out so fast and playing in their system, we couldn’t win,” Solomon said.
Certainly, the Orediggers looked gassed because of the pace in instances and Solomon spent his timeouts finding them recovery time. Still, they worked well.
“It was a good offensive day for a lot of our players,” the coach said, speaking, too, of a morning win over the College of Idaho. “Korey (Krumm) hit well and this was a good game for Annie (Smoot).
“(The Eagles) were just passing so well. Sometimes you have to play with fire to stick with a team like that. This was not a bad game for us at all. Our hitting (.263) against them is a really good thing. We now have to learn more about adjustments and adjusting to really good players.”
Biola bowled Montana Tech over starting the match. The Eagles soared to a 5-1 lead with Crissy Cunningham and Weststeyn leading the charge, combining on a block to start the scoring and each then pounding a kill in the first surge.
The span was eight points, 17-9, on a Cunningham block before the Orediggers shook the cobwebs and began to swing back. They cut the difference to 20-16 in a comeback led by Smoot and Krumm, capped by the Eagles’ Britta Blaser blasting a shot into the net.
Biola held off the rally and got to game point, 24-17, on a kill by Lauren Hoenecke, then won the game on a Cunningham kill.
The Eagles notched 45 kills over the eventual three games, but Montana Tech shined, too, with 39.
The second game was a feud from first serve. Montana Tech held an 8-7 edge after Haley Druyvenstein dropped in a kill. Biola, however, put Weststeyn into motion. One of her kills tied the score and then Blaser put up a block that gave the Eagles the lead for good. Weststeyn killed five more times before the end of the game. One tallied game point, 24-17, and Blaser ended the game with a thumping kill of her own.
The Orediggers came out for the next round willing and unafraid. They held a 9-8 edge on a Jordan Danz block before a “play-with-fire” serve by Sydney Norris soared beyond the end line. The score was tied, then broken when Oredigger hitter Bailie Cortner’s kill attempt was too far, also. Cortner bounced right back with a kill and knotted the score at 10-all.
The teams played almost evenly with Montana Tech never leading but never falling more than two points behind, either, the next several side-outs. The last tie was at 16-all after Smoot smacked a kill.
That knot was untied on a sizzling kill by Joclyn Kirton and the Eagles stayed ahead of the Orediggers the rest of the way. Weststeyn served a crucial three-point run to open a five-point spread on game point, 24-19. Blazer’s hitting, including the spike for game point, proved to be important.
Danz returned serve to Montana Tech with a kill and the Orediggers held possession with Gardiner freshman Kelly Harbach serving. Sydney Norris notched a kill and Druyvestein fenced up a block. Blaser, however, smoked a ricochet shot off the Montana Tech block to put a punctuation to end of the match.
Cortner led Montana Tech hitters with nihe kills. The attack was well dispersed by setters Makenzie Bauck, 23 assists, and Alison Lunde, 13. Krumm and Smoot each registered eight kills and Norris nailed seven. The Eagles succeeded in avoiding star Oredigger libero Kimmy Kavran as much as they could. Therefore, she was limited to a dozen digs, still leading the team. Danz had two blocks.
Mason, a 6-3 Pepperdine dropdown transfer, and Weststeyn each had 10 kills for Biola, setters Ashton Arbuthnot and Alison Spencer combined for 33 assists, Weststeyn dealt a pair of aces and plugged the middle with five blocks, and libero Alex Brehaut came up with 13 digs.
Five Eagles stand 6-1 or taller and two more measure 6-0.
“”This was a good tournament for us with the exposure to good teams,” Solomon assessed. “It was a good weekend all-in-all.”
The Orediggers, 5-7 so far this season, will begin Frontier Conference play this week with road matches at the University of Great Falls on Thursday and Montana State-Northern on Saturday.