Competition driving new-look Tech volleyball squad

Montana Tech volleyball players are in day-at-a-time mode this summer as they prepare in preseason drills. The basic plan seems to be to play hard and see what the ledger says at the end.
The program is in transition. Brian Solomon has arrived from Columbia (S.C.) College after a successful retooling effort there, one that saw his five-year tenure finish with three 20-win seasons. He succeeds longtime Montana Tech mentor Marilyn Tobin, the winningest volleyball coach in Oredigger history, as program chief. Tobin was not retained after last season.
“I’m trying to get them to know what we’ll do skill-wise,” Solomon said during the first week of drills in the Montana Tech HPER Complex, “and what we’ll do as a system. (College) volleyball is tough to do if you can’t do it in the summer.”
The coach is using a variety of competitive skill games to evaluate the players. A devised scoring system tied to the games will give him numbers to evaluate the prospects and help him make playing decisions.
He is being assisted by recent Montana Tech volleyball star Janet Friesz.
“We’re making them all compete for every spot,” Solomon said. “Everything is wide open. We’ll see who competes and who earns what spot. We already had an idea on where some of them would be playing.
“Overall, the girls are responding well to it.”
Part of the video being used in the instruction was on television from the Summer Olympics. Solomon often had the team or team members sit and watch Olympic volleyball matches while he pointed out techniques and strategies being used that could be applicable to the Orediggers’ approach, players said.
Change always causes, well, more change. The roster is quite different from what it was expected to this year as of last. Six seniors are back in 5-foot-5 Kirstin King of Anaconda, 5-8 Allyse Cruise of Liberty, Saskatchewan, 5-8 Kendra Lyons out of Butte Central, 5-9 Jesse Bowden of Newbury Park, Calif., 5-11 Shersteen Cline of Big Sandy and 5-11 Lacey Phelan out of Missoula Big Sky.
Also back is 5-9 sophomore Korey Krumm of Anaconda.
All returnees have extensive, starting experience. Cline, King and Phelan were selected co-captains for the coming season.
Competing for time are five freshman recruits: 5-8 Alison Lunde out of Kalispell Flathead, 6-0 Mikayla Sullivan of Ennis, 5-3 Kimmy Kavran out of Missoula Sentinel, 5-9 Sydney Norris of Puyallup, Wash., and 5-10 Katie Tabaracci out of Missoula Sentinel.
Samantha Hutcheson, a 5-11 junior transfer from Montana State-Northern, will likely red shirt this season, Solomon said. Hutcheson is from Brandon, Manitoba.
Non-seniors from last year’s roster missing from this year’s are Kiara Ross, Michelle Hardy, Emily Lobnitz, Emily Matosich, Katie Petteys, Darla Erker, Alex Courtney and Alex Thatcher. Academic strains and pursuits, early graduation, other personal decisions and the coaching change are all among the possible reasons for the departures.
Montana Tech closed a 7-21 season in 2011 with 15 straight losses. The Orediggers went 0-14 in a good Frontier Conference schedule.
The Orediggers were ranked eighth in the recent Frontier Conference coaches’ preseason poll.
“I have a general idea about the conference,” Solomon said. We saw the teams in the spring tournaments. There will be a lot of new players in the league this year. There will be so many all-conference seniors gone from year I expect to see some very good freshmen playing this year.
“We don’t have a deep roster, so we’ll have to be patient. “
Montana Tech will open its season on Tuesday, Aug. 21 by playing Frontier rival Montana Western at Dillon in a non-conference match. The Orediggers won’t have a home match until the league opener against Western on Sept. 6. They’ll have played 11 matches by then.
“The girls are excited,” Solomon said. “Having the competition, even on our own team, causes excitement.”