V-Hawks battle past Diggers in tourney opener

By Bruce Sayler 

 Early-season mistakes don’t come any earlier than first match of the season and Montana Tech suffered from a few on Thursday night. 

The ninth-ranked Orediggers opened with a first-set 25-19 win over No. 9 Viterbo of LaCrosse, Wisconsin before succumbing 25-23, 25-22, 25-21 over the next three sets and losing the match in the Montana Tech HPER Complex. The clash of powers was one of the matches in the Big Sky Volleyball Challenge tournament being played this weekend at Montana Tech and at the Maroon Activities Center. (Stats)

“I think we pressed a little bit,” Brian Solomon, head coach of the Orediggers said. “We burned our opportunities. I’d have to go back and see where unforced mistakes cost us the most, probably at the end of the second and fourth sets.” 

The Orediggers trailed early in the first game before catching the V-Hawks at 8-all when a shot by Viterbo’s Mariah Calkins hit wide of bounds. The teams competed evenly while a large crowd cheered, Montana Tech then going ahead for good in the set on a block by senior standout and fourth-year starter Maureen Jessop. 

Eastern Wyoming Community College transfer Jelena Jablanov of Novi Sad, Serbia toed the service line for the Orediggers and served them out to a 16-12 difference. Three points were tallied on Viterebo errors and Jessop accented the run with a kill. 

Montana Tech maintained the distance to set point on a kill by Olivia Muir, then the set-winner, an ace serve by Logan Reed. 

The V-Hawks toughened up noticeably the rest of the way. 

“Both teams were streaky, which is the way teams usually are this time of the year,” Solomon said. “We moved a lot of people in and out (of the alignment) to see what different combinations might work for us. It was the first time the girls played anyone but themselves.” 

The results and effort against a Top 10 team gave reason for Oredigger optimism.

Viterbo had to shake past the Orediggers for a second-set win and knot the match score at a game apiece. Montana Tech led by small margins until a 16-all tie the V-Hawks forged on a Martina McGrath kill. The traded points to 23-all before McGrath mashed a kill for set point. Marissa Kleman nailed the set-ender for the Viterbo win. 

The third set was rigorous all the way through wie ith neither team leading by more than three points to the last tie at 22-all, gained Viterbo on a kill by McGrath. She hammered another for a one-point edge, then Jada Mitchell killed for the V-Hawks for set point. Jessop missed long on a Montana Tech shot and the V-Hawks led 2-1 going toward a fourth set. 

The fourth game was just as rugged as the previous two. Again, no more than three points ever separated the teams the whole set and it was knotted at 23-all after Muir mashed a Rosalyn Zent set for a kill. McGrath, however, tallied a kill for match point and Kleman finished it with a block. 

Rallies were strong by both teams, though confusion reminded that it was so early in the season. :Players collided on the same side of the net and some communications seemed to be missed. They were likely among the areas identified for practice next week. 

“I thought our blocking was really good and we did a nice job, defensively,” Solomon said. 

Friday will be double busy for the Orediggers with an 11 a.m. match against Cornerstone of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and then a 7 p.m. contest against Bushnell of Eugene, Oregon. Both are to be played in the HPER Complex. 

Jessop killed 13 shots and blasted three ace serves to lead the Orediggers Thursday. Muir had 11 kills and three blocks and Reed tallied five kills, three blocks and three aces.Alexis Umland and Taylor Henley each registered six blocks, Zent dished 39 assists and Jablanov scooped 18 digs. 

 Kleman, McGrath and Kenzie Winker notched nine kills each for Viterbo. Adrianna Reinhart and Maddie Connor each served three aces andMitchell fenced up five blocks.