By Bruce Sayler
The fight Montana Tech had on its hands was probably more than it was hoping for, but the Orediggers persevered and defeated Northwest University.
The Big Sky Volleyball Challenge tournament opened in the Butte Civic Center Thursday evening with is certainly to be one of the best matches of the tourney — a Montana Tech win of 25-22 23-25, 21-25, 25-13, 15-7. (Stats)
It was a non-conference match, but a lot counted, especially for head coach Brian Solomon and what he saw from Montana Tech’s rally.
“They should be proud of what they did,” Solomon said of the Orediggers. “We’re winning and they worked hard for it. That was a heckuva match for a Thursday evening to start the Big Sky Volleyball Challenge.”
The match ended on 6-foot junior hitter Karina Mickelson’s 27th kill, which was also her third in a row finishing the contest. Montana Tech led the tie-breaker set in its entirety. A Mickelson kill gave the Orediggers a 1-0 lead. Seven of her kills were among Montana Tech’s 15 points in the final game.
The Orediggers had a 4-0 lead after Gena McMIllan slammed home a kill, Mickelson scored on a tip and a Northwest hit sailed wide of the out-of-bounds stripe. The Eagles got to within three points, the last time at 6-3 after a Sarah Howlett kills. Montana Tech, though, pushed ahead. A softer shot by Mickelson floated over the front line for match point at 14-7 before she sizzled in the last shot.
“Karina closed out a lot of points,” Solomon said. “She not only impacted the game offensively, but, defensively, she controlled their hitters.”
Montana Tech look poised to cruise after showing good game i winning a tough 25-22 first set. The Orediggers took the lead finally for good at 17-16 on a kill by true freshman Maureen Jessop. They got to set point at 24-20 as senior Heather Thompson belted two straight kills from the middle. Northwest fought off two set points before a Mickelson tip fell in for the winning point.
Montana Tech seemed more dominant to begin the second game and rolled out to a 10-4 lead on a Thompson blast. Eagles hitting errors had broken a 3-all tie. Northwest clawed back from the 10-4 disadvantage and caught up only at the very end as Hannah Lord connected for the finishing nail.
Montana Tech had been stunned.
The Eagles then led almost all the way in the third set and reached set point at 24-20 as Tatiana Ensz tapped down it down. A Mickelson tip fended off the loss for a moment, but Northwest answered with a winning tip shot by Kylie Szczepanski.
The Orediggers trailed in games, 2-1.
However, they regrouped and blasted out of the huddle for the fourth set.
At 4-3, they had the lead for good as Sydney Parks finessed a shot in for a point. Montana Tech continued to build on the edge gain and had a 10-point gap at 19-9 after McMillan murdered an ace.
The Eagles seemed to start dragging and the Orediggers accelerated. A Parks kill registered set point, 24-11. Northwest fought off the set’s end for two serves, but a Mickelson kill clinched the win, tied the match and beckoned the tie-breaker.
“I really liked the way they recovered after Northwest took the lead from us,” Solomon said. “That was a lot to recover from. Northwest played really well for a lot of stretches.”
McMillan finished with 18 kills and Jessop with 10 to complement Mickelson’s hot hitting. McKenna Kaelber dished 55 assists, Hopcroft dug up 26 balls and fired three ace serves and Thompson posted 10 blocks. The Orediggers, now 4-1 for the season, also got 12 digs from McMillan, 10 each from Kaelber and Hannah Oggerino and six blocks from Mickelson.
Northwest leaders included Lord with 14 kills, Courteney Carr with 36 assists, Ensz with two aces, Christina Hegarty with 18 digs and Abigail Broussard with nine blocks. Freshman Emma Stout, out of Jefferson High School in Boulder, saw court time for the Eagles.
“Both teams played well,” Solomon said. “We had many stretches tonight where we played well. There is a lot to learn from this match and to be happy about.”
Montana Tech will next be in action at 11 a.m. Friday against Bethel University of Mishawaka, Indiana, and then will play 12th-ranked College of Idaho at 7 p.m. Northwest plays Valley City State at 3 p.m. and Carroll at 5 p.m. The 14-team tournament continues into Saturday, when Montana Tech plays Valley City State, at 11 a.m.