By Bruce Sayler
]Montana Tech’s win over Montana State-Northern in Frontier Conference women’s volleyball Thursday night took on the airs of a survival or an escape more-so than that of a victory.
The Orediggers, though, posted a creditworthy win, 25-17, 25-17, 26-28, 25-16 in the Montana Tech HPER Complex.
“Might blood pressure might start coming down, now,” Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon quipped after Northern proved to be, at least, a feisty opponent.
The Orediggers, playing for only the second time this season in their own gym, were strong early, then struggled in the third game. The stumble, especially in the latter stages of the set, were concerning, bringing questions as to whether the Skylights would ride their momentum through a fourth game and force a tiebreaker. It didn’t happen. Montana Tech responded with a dominant effort in the fourth set.
“Tonight’s game was a really good bounce-back game for Bailie (Cortner),” Solomon said. “She had four blocks and her offense was very smart tonight.”
Cortner was a strong hitter early as the Orediggers unleashed a fierce hitting attack on the Skylights, whose floor defense was being led by true freshman libero Hannah Antmann, out of Butte High.
“I’d say we had really good balance tonight (in hitting),” Solomon said. “Jordan (Danz) had 14 kills and Bailie had 12. Nicole (Peacock) and Gena (McMillan) each had nine. We almost had four in double figures.”
Setter Makenzie Bauck fueled the attack, especially in the early going, and finished the match with 43 assists.
“Our blocking was really sharp,” Solomon said. “But our back-row defense looked out of sorts. Going into the second half of the season, we have a lot of things to focus on.”
Montana Tech controlled the first set, though the score dwindled in margin a few times. MSU-Northern scored the first three points match and last led in the first game at 4-3. A block by Cortner tied the score, and a kill by Danz scored the go-ahead point. The Orediggers maintained a small distance the rest of the way behind a strong hitting attack by Danz, Cortner and Katie Wiley. Set point arrived at 24-16 on a kill by McMillan. A sideout later, Peacock plastered a kill during an exchange of blocks with Northern frontliners. The shot ended the game.
The second game was similar to the first and even ended in the same score. However, the Skylights seemed to be in the set a little more, competitively. The Montana Tech lead was only 15-14 after Emily Russell tallied on a push shot for Northern. Nicole Peacock served three straight points for the Orediggers on a McMillan kill, an ace and a Skylight two-hit violation. Montana Tech reached set point at 24-16 on a kill by Danz during a Hannah Liss serving run. After the Orediggers were called for being in the net, they put the win away on another Danz kill.
The teams battled mostly point for point through the extended third game. Montana Tech first hit match point at 24-22 on a Wiley block. Jillian Nickens tallied on a kill and then Haley Yoder tied the score with an ace. The teams exchanged two errors each, bringing the score to 26-all. A shot by Danz landed wide of bounds and Northern finished the set on a block by Russell. The Skylights not only staved off the loss, but forced another game while seeming gaining advantage.
Montana Tech rallied from being behind early and established control as the fourth game progressed. The Orediggers took the lead for good at 9-8 when a Timi Severson shot sailed wide in the middle of a five-point service run by Peacock. A three-point run by Danz moved the Orediggers from a 19-14 command to a 22-14 cushion. A block by McMillan produced match point at 24-15. After the Orediggers were called on a net violation, Kylie Pasieka of Northern bumped a return too far. It landed beyond the end line and the match ended.
“It was a game of blocks,” Solomon said, commenting on the fierce play at the net.
Northern notched seven blocks while Montana Tech had nine. Wiley had four and Danz three to back Cortner in individual blocks. Yoder led the Skylights with five.
“I thought we played really well the first two sets,” Solomon said, “and they made a couple of plays at the end of the third. Our offense produced a lot in the first two games. We made too many hitting errors in the third.”
Amtmann finished with a kill and four digs for Northern. Her kill was a lofted return that fell in for a point. Liberos aren’t allowed to pound spikes. Severson led the Skylights in kills with eight,
Montana Tech held Northern to .127 hitting. The Oredigger floor defense was led by Bauck with 12 digs and Danz with 10. The team smacked seven aces, led by Danz with three.
Northern fell to 2-3 in conference play and 3-11 overall with the loss. Montana Tech improved to 2-3 and 10-7. The Orediggers will play at the University of Great Falls next Friday in their next match.