By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech’s volleyball win Saturday was more convincing than one would likely expect. However, as big as the sweep over Rocky Mountain was, the Orediggers’ post-match celebration seemed surprisingly low-key.
The 25-22, 25-16, 25-21 sweep was just another day at the office for Montana Tech’s spikers, even though it came in a clash of nationally ranked NAIA powers on the Montana Tech HPER Complex Kelvin Sampson Court.
“It was a great game,” Brian Solomon, head coach of the 18th-ranked Orediggers, said. “This is a pretty fun team when so many teams are playing so many games that matter. (Frontier Conference) seeds 1 through 5 are still up in the air heading into the last week.”
The Montana Tech offense was mighty, 52 kills in just three sets, including a punctuating 20 kills out of 37 attempts during the last set alone. The Orediggers were swinging big and hitting hard.
Karina Mickelson and Gena McMillan wound up with 12 kills each and Maureen Jessop boomed 11.
McMillan also came up with 14 digs, as did libero Sabrina Hopcroft as the Montana Tech defense seemed to soften the Bears into more tip-and-bump kind of hits than would be expected of a 16th-ranked team.
“I thought it was a good all-around game,” Hopcroft said. “I thought the defense was doing well in extending balls (hit by Rocky Mountain) and giving our offense more chances. Everyone was tuned in. We were focused on easy balls.”
So, the emphasis was on no drops, no concentration lapses that let returnable shots hit the floor.
“Sydney (Parks) was amazing running the shots to the outside,” Hopcroft, the conference digs leader, said about deflections being turned out for digs and saves.
The 6-foot-3 Parks charted four blocks and Mickelson finished with five as Montana Tech totaled 15.
“I thought we had some really good stuff on offense,” Solomon said. “Our middles were really active again and our outsides had a lot of hits — Karina with 12, Gena with 12 and Mo with 11. Karina had a really good game with the 12 kills and she had five blocks.
“We needed that because Rocky is really good on defense and wasn’t going to give us much. We had to earn it.”
Both teams looked to have chances to surge ahead in the first game, only to have the opponent rebuff the attempt. Hannah Oggerino served Montana Tech ahead for good, taking over with a 17-15 deficit and delivering a six-point run. Parks posted two blocks and a kill in the run and McMillan mashed two kills, including the go-ahead point and the one that capped the spree at 21-17.
A Mickelson kill hit set point at 24-20. The Bears scored twice, on a kill by Madison Stoddard and an ace serve by Ayla Embry, before the Orediggers finished the set on a block by Heather Thompson.
Montana Tech stormed through the latter part of the second set. The teams were tied 10-all before a hit by Rocky Mountain’s Morgan Allen sailed long, sending the Orediggers ahead. McMillan then fired an ace serve and Jessop walloped a kill. Montana Tech led the rest of the way. Thompson blocked a Bears missile for set point at 24-16 and then the Bears fumbled a set and the game ended on the error. The Orediggers had a 2-0 lead heading into the third game.
Montana Tech led all of the third set, but never by much. Mickelson notched the first point on a kill, then Thompson followed with a block and McMillan with an ace before the Bears scored on a kill by Monique Rodriguez.
Montana Tech opened its lead to seven points, 14-7, on a kill by Thompson, but never led by more,
A stuff by Parks brought set point, 24-18. The Bears battled back after a Mickelson try veered wide of the sideline. Miranda Gallagher had a block for Rocky Mountain and then also blasted a kill, bringing the Bears to within 24-21 of the lead. Parks, though, ended the match on a block.
“I think we were focused all game,” Hopcroft said, then noted that the Bears were coming off a Thursday night loss at Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho. “I think Rocky was probably pretty tired from playing L-C.”
That’s all she was willing to give, though.
“This was fun,” Hopcroft said. “It’s always fun when you’re winning.”
The loss dropped the Bears to 17-10 for the season, 7-3 in conference matches. Gallagher led them in kills with 12 and Natalie Hilderman set for 25 assists. Embry aced two serves and led the team in digs with 11. Gallagher’s four blocks led a team effort of 14.
Rocky Mountain will play at Montana State-Northern on Friday.
Montana Tech setter McKenna Kaelber registered team highs of 46 assists and two aces as the Orediggers improved to 22-6 for the season, including 7-3 in Frontier Conference play. They will play at Carroll on Wednesday in Helena.