DILLON — Two University of Montana Western seniors, Mariann Fretheim and Shelby Mack, saw their volleyball careers come to an end on Thursday at the Frontier Conference Tournament in Butte. Ninth-seeded Dickinson State University turned in the first upset of the tournament with a hard-fought 21-25, 25-21, 22-25, 25-13, 15-11 five-set victory over Montana Western.
“The end of our season wasn’t ideal and it is really tough right now, but looking back there are so many positives and they are what we will remember about our careers,” Fretheim and Mack commented. “Our teammates are our chosen family and we can’t thank everyone enough for all the support they have given us over the years. The program has changed so much in our time here and we are very appreciative of being a part of that. We can’t wait to see where Lisa takes Montana Western volleyball.”
The Bulldogs were led by their middle blockers Brea Mitchell and Charelle Minor. Mitchell led all hitters with 17 kills (0.289 efficiency) and had a hand in three blocks while Minor had a season-high 16 kills (0.303 efficiency) and added four blocks.
“Both of our middles had fantastic offensive matches that kept us in contention,” head coach Lisa Griffiths noted of Mitchell and Minor. “Dickinson never really had an answer for them, but we couldn’t set them enough to win.”
Senior co-captain Shelby Mack led the backcourt with 18 digs followed by fellow captain Bailey Branson with 15, Paige Latimer with 14 and Breanne Kelley and Emily Erickson with 12 apiece.
Latimer had her 11th double-double of the season with 48 assists to go along with her 14 digs. Branson, Kelley and Erickson just missed double-doubles with nine, eight, and seven kills, respectively. Each player also added a couple of blocks, Branson and Kelley with two apiece and Erickson and Latimer with one apiece.
The Bluehawks were led by junior setter/hitter Melissa Avila with 28 assists, 16 kills, 15 digs and four blocks. Chelsea Seibel picked up 28 digs, Ebony Sanders had 11 kills and Shaunda Dvorak had seven blocks.
“It’s definitely frustrating not to come away with a win against Dickinson State,” Griffiths stated. “We felt like we had the right game plan going in and knew what they were going to do, but we couldn’t convert enough plays to come out on top. Credit them; they are all upperclassmen and came out playing fearlessly, but I do think that if we could have established our game and controlled the momentum of the match we would have had a chance to see Lewis-Clark State on Friday.”
A championship banquet was held immediately after the match honoring two senior players. Shelby Mack, a senior libero from Three Forks, Mont., was presented with the 2012 NAIA Champions of Character Award for the Montana Western team. Each coach is given the opportunity to select one player to receive the award, which exemplifies the five core characteristics of the NAIA: respect, responsibility, sportsmanship, servant leadership and integrity.
“Shelby is a great example of what the NAIA and the five core values represent,” Griffiths said. “I couldn’t ask for a better role model for our younger players this season and I hope they appreciate all she has done for the program.”
Brea Mitchell was also honored. Mitchell is a freshman middle blocker from Pocatello, Idaho. She was named to the All-Freshman Team along with five other players. After leading the conference for most of the year in hitting percentage, Mitchell finished the season in second place with a 0.284 percentage. Mitchell was ninth in the conference and first on the team in kills/set with 2.6 and second on the team in blocks/set with 0.6.
“It was great to see Brea honored by the conference,” Griffiths said. “She has been one of our most consistent contributors and definitely had a season deserving of the honor. I can’t wait to see what her future holds.”
Although they did not have a storybook ending, Montana Western still had a terrific season. The progress throughout the year was evident to all who watched the Bulldogs on the court. Last season, the Bulldogs finished with a 7-19, 2-12 record, which they improved to 10-19, 5-11 this year, including big wins over Great Falls, Rocky Mountain and Westminster.
Montana Western did not just improve its record from last season; they also saw increases in every statistical category. The Bulldogs’ 11.79 kills per set and 0.168 hitting percentage was up from last season’s 8.85 kills per set and 0.091 efficiency. Assists per set improved from 7.65 to 10.68 and digs per set went from 13.92 to 15.56. Montana Western also served tougher (0.91 aces/set to 1.04), blocked better (1.44 blocks/set to 1.61) and earned more points (11.2 to 14.43).
“I’m proud of the work the team put in this year,” Griffiths concluded. “We focused a lot of our offseason work on our net play (both blocking and attacking) and saw huge increases in both areas. There is still a lot of work to do, but the potential in our young players is exciting.”
Next season, the Bulldogs will return the bulk of their team with just Mack and Frethiem graduating. Returners include: juniors Bailey Branson, Jessica Brunett and Charelle Minor; sophomores Emily Erickson, Breanne Kelley, Paige Latimer, Madison Mansch and Olivia Nagler; freshmen Brittany Erickson, Brea Mitchell and Mikayla Ness; and redshirt Kelsey Little.
— UM Sports Information