By Bill Foley
Brian Solomon didn’t have an answer.
Like flipping on a switch, his Montana Tech volleyball team kicked its game into high gear to fight off Carroll College for a four-set Frontier Conference victory Wednesday night at the HPER Complex. (Stats)
“That is a big win,” said Solomon, Tech’s seventh-year head coach. “This is probably the first time we’ve swept them (the Saints) since I’ve been here.”
The Orediggers knocked off the Saints in four sets Sept. 26 in Helena.
For most of the first two sets on Halloween night, though, the Orediggers appeared to be staring at a sweep at the hands of the rival Saints.
Carroll won the opener 25-22, and a 12-2 Carroll run gave the Saints an 18-8 lead in Game 2.
Somehow, the Orediggers rebounded with an 18-6 rally to take the second set 26-24. Tech then finished off the victory with wins of 25-14 and 25-13.
In all, the Oredigger outscored the Saints 68-33 after falling down 18-8 in the second set.
So, what happened?
“I wish I could tell you,” Solomon said. “I didn’t think either team was playing well out of the gate. It was kind of those, ‘You kind of have to win without your best game.’”
Whatever it was, the Orediggers eventually found that “best game” and turned a white-knuckle match into an easy win.
“We came out flat and were making some errors,” Solomon said. “It was great to see them pull through that — pull through not playing well — and having our good game come around.”
The win put a nice finishing touch on Senior Night as Tech honored seniors Masha Korol and Hannah Liss.
Like she has for most of her two seasons on campus, Korol was at the heart of the Oredigger win. She smacked 18 kills and collected 19 digs to lead the Orediggers.
“She played really well,” Solomon said.
Liss added a team-best 27 assists and 13 digs.
Karina Mickelson contributed with 13 kills and 18 digs, and Sabrina Hopcroft (19)and Nikayla Larson (10) reached double digits in digs. Kamaile Moody added 18 assists. Larson served three aces.
Solomon pointed out that the Orediggers got contributions from up and down the lineup.
“Genesis (Keith) came in off the bench and really put up a lot of numbers,” the coach said. “She had five total blocks and hit really well. We started scoring some points in some different ways, which was great. We needed it at the time.”
Heather Thompson spiked seven kills, and ‘Shoeless’ Kace James joined Keith with five.
James, who had a black eye and a blacked-out tooth from her pregame hockey goalie costume, might have earned a nickname in the win.
James lost a shoe at the beginning of one long volley, and she didn’t miss a beat as the Orediggers picked up the point down the stretch in Game 4.
“That was a long rally to play with one shoe,” Solomon said. “I was just hoping we didn’t set her. I don’t know if our setter knew she was shoeless.”
Sydney Parks and Rachel Hadley also contributed in the victory that lifted the Orediggers to 7-4 in conference and 15-14 overall. Tech broke a tie for third place with the Saints, who fell 6-5 and 16-8.
Aliya Williams tallied 11 kills to lead the Saints. Lexi Mikkelsen added eight kills, while Ayla Carpenter and Madi Quick each collected 18 digs. Rayna Pilgeram added 15 digs, while Casey Berry and Mikkelsen each dug 10.
Pilgeram also dished 27 assists.
The Orediggers close the regular season Friday at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho. Carroll plays there on Saturday.
An Oredigger win paired with a University of Providence-Great Falls loss will give the Orediggers a tie for second place in the league heading into next week’s Frontier Conference Tournament in Butte.
Solomon said he wasn’t sure of the tiebreaker because Providence and Tech split in the regular season, and both teams won in four sets.
No matter the seed, Solomon said the Oredigger are ready for the postseason following a challenging regular season. Tech once again loaded up on ranked opponents for its non-conference matches.
“We’ve been getting challenged all year,” he said. “It’s a challenge for a young team to sustain when you’re not playing well. We did that today. We held through when things weren’t going right, and they rebounded, which was great. We haven’t always been there.”