By Bruce Sayler
Momentum was fickle in the Montana Tech HPER Center Wednesday night. It seemed to change sides every one, two or three points.
It sided with Montana Tech in the end as the Orediggers outlasted Carroll 22-25, 25-14, 25-21, 19-25, 15-11 in a Frontier Conference college women’s volleyball match.
“We survived a lot of ups and downs for both teams,” Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon said. “Carroll played a really clean game and we had to adjust to some stuff. They sure gave us all we could handle. I’m happy with “Mo” for saving the match for us.”
“Mo” is senior four-year starter Maureen Jessop from Corvallis. Her fifth-game efforts, including the final shot, put the period on the statement that was a fiercely competitive match.
The Orediggers had an early lead in the tiebreaker set. However, 6-3 was largest spread. Carroll clawed back to tie the score at 9-all on a block by setter Hannah Schweikert against a whistling shot by Jessop. Jessop reloaded and reeled off three consecutive kills for a 12-9 Montana Tech advantage.
The Saints were unable to cut the difference to any less than two points. The Orediggers reached set point at 14-10 on an ace serve by Roslyn Zentz. Katherine McEuen registered a kill on a shot fumbled at the net by Montana Tech. The Orediggers’ front row recovered. Jessop sighted a set on the left side of the net and blasted it through a block, and Montana Tech, ranked 19th in NAIA, owned the win.
“They’re always strong at the net,” Jessop said. “They’re a big team and just handle things well.”
“Then, the whole game, the momentum kept going back and forth.”
Jessop said the Orediggers pulled out the win by remembering the game plan.
Carroll is being coached for the 17th season by Butte native Maureen “Mo” (Tutty) Boyle, a former Butte High, Montana Tech and Carroll volleyball standout.
“We had to reset back to what we were supposed to,” Jessop said.
She wound up being assigned the last shot.
“The plan was to draw their blockers away from me so I could get a shot,” Jessop said. “We were able to split their blockers a little more than they had been and (she got her shot).”
The Saints were still attempting the block. Hands from the blockers stuck out to the sides, but the strength wasn’t sturdy enough to turn Jessop’s shot away and it crashed through their defense, hitting floor for the last kill.
“It’s hard from the mental game to reset,” Jessop said. “And, if you have to reset after each shot or each serve, it is even more difficult.”
A good crowd witnessed the good match and both teams experienced a little on-court uneasiness. The appearance in the HPER Complex was the Orediggers’ first since their pre-conference tournament last month.
“It was kind of a foreign experience playing in our own gym,” Solomon said. “And, each set the momentum switched. I was glad to see our seniors were able to make some adjustments for us on the fly.”
“I’m sure both sides wish they had some stretches back.”
Carroll led not quite all the way in the first set. Julia Carr served the Saints to a 3-0 start and they built on, and maintained, a lead. However, it was never a comfortable margin for them. Freshman Kinnidi Willmore’s kill pulled the Orediggers to within 20-19 and gave them the serve. Emma Carvo fired an ace to tie the score. Montana Tech wasn’t able to get ahead, but tied the Saints one more time, 21-all on a tip by Taylor Henley. Elizabeth Heuiser killed to return the lead to Carroll. An Oredigger serve traveled too far a side-out later and the Saints were at set point, 24-22. McEuen killed for the winner.
Montana Tech bounced back with two straight set victories. The Orediggers rolled out to the early lead on serving runs by Logan Reed and Jessop. The gap was 12-6 and Montana Tech kept tacking on points. The spread reached 10 points, 23-13, when Oredigger Olivia Muir belted a kill to end a long rally. After McEuen hit for a kill, Montana Tech setter McKenna Kaelber dumped a fake set over the net for set point. Henley tipped a ball into open space and Montana Tech had tied the match count at a game apiece.
The Orediggers put themselves in the driver’s seat with a win in the third set, taking a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five competition. The Saints were ahead early, building a 9-5 advantage after two Montana Tech hitting errors. Five serves later, Henley and Muir teamed on a block that knotted the score at 5-all. The Orediggers got the lead for good, 13-12, on another Henley block. They built on it and reached set point, 24-17 on a kill by Muir. Carroll played to within 24-21 mixing Oredigger errors with kills by McEuen and Lauren Sehenuk. Willmore walloped a shot to end the set in Montana Tech’s favor.
Carroll flexed its back muscles against the wall and sprang back on the way to forcing the tiebreaker set. The Saints snared the lead in the fourth game at 6-5 on the second of three straight kills by Heuiser. A McEuen serving run widened the difference to 15-9. Carroll’s Sidney Gulick, playing against her sister, Oredigger Kali Gulick, nailed one of the kills in the run. The Gulicks are out of Glacier High in Kalispell. Another Sidney Gulick kill charted set point, 24-18. A Muir kill delayed the Carroll set win for a serve. Maddie Boles notched the kill for the Saints that sent the match into extra serves.
“We’re adjusting better this year and we reset better,” Jessop said. “We always come in with a game plan for each team and try to execute it. We’re never coming in blind.”
“Carroll tried to make it close.”
Jessop finished with 14 kills and Muir, LeBeau and Willmore each had 10. Henley belted nine. Kaelber set 50 assists, and Olivia Caddy had 26 digs. Muir led in blocks with three.
Heuiser had a match-high 21 kills for Carroll, Schweickert doled out 54 assists, Carr came up with 40 digs and Heuiser and Sehenuk each posted four blocks.
The win put Montana Tech at 2-0 in Frontier Conference play and 14-6 for the season. Carroll fell to 1-1, 9-9.
The Orediggers will be home against Rocky Mountain in their homecoming match on Saturday at 6 p.m.