By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech might be playing its best volleyball of the season at just the right time.
The Orediggers overcame a slow start Friday night to level rival Carroll 16-25, 25-16, 25-15, 25-10 in a Frontier Conference regular-season finale played in Montana Tech HPER Complex. (Stats)
The victory came after a five-set win over the same Saints on Thursday night and gave Montana Tech an 8-10 record this covid-19 changeup of a season. The pandemic caused the move of the fall sport to a spring schedule, instead. The Orediggers played no non-conference games and pushed through some postponements and rescheduling as a part of dealing with it all.
Now, the teams go onto the Frontier Conference postseason, where Montana Tech will be at home in the first round on Tuesday. They are to play Montana Western in the HPER Complex with the first serve slated for 7 p.m., Matt Stepan, Orediggers athletic director, confirmed.
“This was a great finish for us,” Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon said. “I knew it would be hard for us coming off of five sets (Thursday night). And, we were flat coming out for the first set.
“But, maybe it was the most consistent we’ve played this season once we got rolling.”
The Orediggers rolled Carroll in doing so.
None of the outcomes of the sets was close, unlike some intense battles between the two teams the night prior. Still, some frantic moments arose.
The Saints shot to a 7-2 lead to start the match while spreading their offense around to their array of attackers. Montana Tech worked its way back into the contest and found the match tied at 11-all after Carroll’s Lexi Mikkelsen sent a shot wide. Two ties later, the Saints’ Julia Carr served her team from a 15-14 edge to a 21-14 command with Taelyr Krantz accounting for most of the damage with a kill and three blocks.
Another Krantz block a bit later brought set point at 24-15. She then missed long on a spike, but rebounded with a well-placed tip that finished the set.
The Orediggers were awake.
They took advantage of a Lexie Gleasman spike that missed long to break a 3-all knot and grabbed the lead for the rest of the game. Taylor Henley killed twice following the Gleasman error and then Kamaile Moody, the Orediggers’ only senior, fired an ace serve. The 7-3 margin held.
Sarah Hopcroft’s six-point serving run for Montana Tech a few minutes later increased the distance between the teams to 21-13. The Orediggers reached set point at 24-16 on a kill by Maureen Jessop, then Moody aced and the match score was a game apiece.
“Our blocking really got going and we defended so well,” Solomon said. “It was good to see.
“Mo (Jessop) had 15 kills for us and our middles (Sydney Parks and Henley) played well all weekend.
Sarah had her first weekend of really starting and played a really good game.”
Hopcroft is a freshman.
“Hannah (Oggerino) did a really good job in the libero position, too,” Solomon said.
The melding of the team’s abilities became more evident in game three. Carroll took an early edge, but not by more than two points. A kill by the 6-foot-3 Parks broke an 8-all tie and was followed by a Saint’s hitting error. Karina Mickelson then nailed consecutive kills and Carroll never caught up again.
Jessop finished the game with two kills, 24-15 for set point and then the ender.
The Orediggers smelled victory with the 2-1 lead in the match score and went for it. Parks pounded a kill for a side-out and a 1-0 Montana Tech edge at the beginnings of game four. Hopcroft toed the service line and her teammates reeled off six more points for a 7-0 command. Parks posted two blocks in the run, and Megan Benton notched a pair of kills. Jessop also had a kill.
The teams traded points and side-outs until Jessop took over the Oredigger serve with a 10-4 advantage. Montana Tech rattled off the next dozen points with Henley leading the attack. She had a block and two kills in the spree. Jessop contributed an ace and a kill. Mickelson had a kill, a stuff and a block.
The Orediggers owned a 22-7 cushion and got to match point at 24-9 when a Saint’s serve caught in the net. A four-hit call against the Orediggers delayed the end a serve. Mickelson then nailed it down with a kill.
Henley finished with 12 kills and Mickelson with 11 to back Jessop’s total. Setter McKenna Kaelber put up 42 assists. Oggerino paced the floor defense with 23 digs, Jessop registered 18 and Hopcroft 15. Parks led in blocks with seven while Jessop was next with five.
Gleasman paced Carroll with 10 kills, and Williams and Kackman combined for 27 assists. Kackman also tallied three aces. Carr came up with 23 digs and Krantz wound up with seven blocks. The Saints finished the regular season at 10-8 for another winning year under head coach Maureen “Mo” (Tutty) Boyle, a Butte native.