Orediggers top Argos in Frontier Conference opener

Orediggers top Argos in Frontier Conference opener
Montana Tech's Genesis Keith tries to hit past University of Providence blockers Lauren Brown, left and Ember Schwindt Thursday night at the Butte Civic Center. (Bill Foley photo)

By Bruce Sayler

Montana Tech enjoyed a return to home sweet almost home Thursday night with a Frontier Conference college volleyball opener in the Butte Civic Center.

The bus didn’t exactly just stop at the Civic Center on the back from a tournament in Great Falls Sunday, it just might have seemed that way. The Orediggers played Providence University of Great Falls and bounced the Argonauts 25-23, 20-25, 25-12, 25-20. Free admission helped grow the crowd in the Civic Center. The match was played on one of the arena’s portable sports courts bought last year to make the facility a more viable volleyball venue. (Stats)

“It was a good way to open conference play, capitalizing with a good home win,” Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon said.

The Orediggers’ actual home court in the Montana Tech HPER Complex is being used through Saturday for a career fair. So, the volleyball team went across town to play Providence.

“Technically, it was a home match,” Solomon acknowledged and with a grin.

The Orediggers have yet to play in the HPER this season. Their only previous matches in Butte this year were also played at the Civic Center where they were the hosts of the Big Sky Volleyball Challenge tournament in the arena.

So, they’re likely quite comfortable there. They looked it Thursday in pulling out a couple of close matches at the end, and in dominating another.

The first game was a battle all the way with five points being the biggest margin, and that was by the Orediggers, 18-13 after a Masha Korol block. However, the Argonauts fought back and tied the score at 19-all on an ace serve by Isabelle Parker. It was mostly point for point the rest of the set and the Orediggers hit set point at 24-23 when Kelsey Shaver of Providence tangled her serve in the net. Heather Thompson, however, blasted in the kill for the first-set win.

No more than five points ever separated the teams in the second set, either. It wasn’t until set point when the spread opened that much as Kelsey Shaver downed a tip shot for the 24-19 Providence command. After Korol hit a kill for Montana Tech, Parker killed for set win, favor of Providence. Karina Mickelson powered five straight points for the Orediggers in one stretch with four kills and a block, but the eruption was not enough to derail the Argos.

The Orediggers dominated in the third game. They ran out to a 7-1 lead and were never caught in the set. Sabrina Hopcroft served most of the run with a Korol kill and a Kamaile Moody tip among the points. The lead grew to 10 points, 21-11, on a hit into the net by the Argos’ Tymerie Vincelli. A thunderous Mickelson kill a few minutes later brought set point, 24-12, and then a Heather Thompson block clinched the set win for Montana Tech.

Providence led much of the fifth set and was in a 13-all tie. The Orediggers went ahead for good at 16-15 on a setter’s dump shot by Moody. Two kills by Korol followed. Montana Tech maintained a small margin and then scored four points behind the serving of Korol to build its advantage to 23-19. A Mickleson kill and a Korol ace were key points. A Mickelson tip shot tallied match point 24-18, then the Orediggers weathered kills by Sydney Andersen and Shaver before securing the win on a Mickelson diagonal kill.

“It was a good defensive match, probably the best for us this year,” Solomon said. “We had 14 blocks, and both middles (Thompson and Keith) had seven blocks. Our back-row players played well — there were a couple of long rallies — and we served well.”

Mickelson, Korol and Thompson all came up big in spots, with Korol, the reigning Frontier Conference Player of the Year, being a force, particularly, at the end. Korol finished with 18 kills, Mickelson with 16 and Thompson with 12.

“Heather and Karina had good sets for us and then Masha really took over late,” Solomon said. “We made some adjustments tonight we hadn’t been making.”

Other Montana Tech leaders included Moody with 34 assists, Korol with two aces, Hopcroft with 29 digs and Mickelson with five blocks.

Providence was led by Shaver with 18 kills, Paige Jensen with 29 assists, Averi Dyer with 21 digs, and Ember Schwindt and Brown with four blocks each.

The win put the Orediggers’ record at 9-6 and they will next play on Saturday against Frontier Conference opponent Montana State-Northern. The match is slated for a 7 p.m. first serve in Havre.

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