Orediggers spike Dawgs, advance to semifinals

Orediggers spike Dawgs, advance to semifinals
Montana Tech's Nikayla Larson celebrates an Oredigger point Friday night at the HPER Complex. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler

Montana Tech’s hitting Friday looked like World Series-winning caliber as the Orediggers downed Montana Western in three games at the single-elimination Frontier Conference college volleyball tournament.

Montana Tech breezed to wins of 25-8 and 25-10 before having to outbattle the Bulldogs 25-20 to finish off the sweep in the first-round match. (Stats)

The tournament is being played at the Montana Tech HPER Complex. The Orediggers will play again at 1 p.m. on Saturday against Providence of Great Falls in the semifinals. Saturday play will open with an 11 a.m. match pitting top-seeded Rocky Mountain against Lewis-Clark State. The winners will meet Saturday night at 7 for the tournament title.

The Orediggers steamrolled Montana Western in their first two sets, coming out with hot hands to cap the tourney’s first round in their own gym.

“I think we played above our average in the first two sets,” Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon said. “It swung back the other way in the last game.”

“We hit the ball really well in the first games and our defense came up with some incredible balls.”

(Story continues below photo gallery)

The match turned out to be the last for Brent Lewis as head coach of the Montana Western program, it was announced afterward.

Montana Tech thoroughly dominated the first set as Sabrina Hopcroft served the team to a 12-3 margin after first toeing the line at 6-3. She hit two aces in the run and benefited from a block and a kill by middle hitter Heather Thompson. Karina Mickelson took over the serve a little later at 18-6 and sent the Orediggers all the way to set point, 24-6. A Masha Korol kill notched the set point and an earlier one in the scoring bulge. A Thompson blast off a set by Kamaile Moody ended the set.

The dominance continued in the second game as Hopcroft served six points in a row after Montana Tech gained a side-out on a Korol kill. The Orediggers steadily built on the advantage that reached 10 points, 12-2, on a Mickelson ace. The set point 24-10, came on a two-hit call against Western setter McKenna Fink before Kyra Loobey ended the set with a stuff of a 50-50 ball for Montana Tech.

The Orediggers’ hot streak passed to the bench as Solomon was able to substitute freely without much letdown, especially in the second set. The team was simply hitting on all mechanisms in sync.

“We jumped out to a real quick lead and got a good opportunity to gain a little experience,” the coach said. “Our hitters were hitting the ball well, but (the Bulldogs) slowed us down a little bit in the middles.”

Montana Western regrouped and threatened to take a game off Montana Tech in the third set. The Bulldogs led 12-9 after a shot by Mickelson traveled long over the end line. Western had gotten the lead at 9-8 on a tip by Abagale Croninger. The Orediggers pulled even at 14-all as Moody tipped a shot into an open space. A kill by Mickelson gave Montana Tech the lead for good at 16-15, but the Bulldogs stayed close. The difference never grew to more than three points until a Thompson kill registered match point at 24-20, and then a double-hit called against the Bulldogs as Mickelson was blocking the shot and ended the match and the Western season.

Solomon noted the Orediggers are finally healthy throughout the roster, adding that having even one more option for scoring than before “really does help.”

Thompson finished with 13 kills and Mickelson with 10 to pace the Montana Tech offense that hit .288 for the match. Hannah Liss set 23 assists, and Mickelson and Hopcroft each served a pair of aces. Hopcroft led in digs with 15 from her libero spot, and Thompson was in on eight blocks.

Montana Western finished a 6-17 season and got seven kills from Kylee McCree, 10 assists from Fink and 13 digs from libero Dylan Fowler. Ellen Wolferman had four blocks.

Montana Tech will take a 17-14 record into the match with Great Falls.

“There’s a full set of games (Saturday),” Solomon said. “There should be three really good matches.”

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