DILLON — The University of Montana Western hosted Frontier Conference rival Montana Tech in their home opener on Tuesday, Aug. 21. The pre-season match did not fall in the Bulldogs favor, with Tech claiming a 25-21, 25-22, 23-25 25-19 non-conference win.
In unofficial statistics, the Montana Western Bulldogs were led by Brea Mitchell with 12 kills and four blocks. Charelle Minor also contributed four blocks along with eight kills. Breanne Kelley pitched in with eight kills and nine digs while Bailey Branson had seven kills and 12 digs. Paige Latimer set 26 assists and Shelby Mack had 15 digs.
The Orediggers were led by Sydney Norris with 14 kills, Shersteen Cline with 10 kills and five blocks, Kimmy Kavran with 25 digs and Alison Lunde with 40 assists.
On Thursday, Aug. 23, the Bulldogs traveled to Spokane, Wash. for the Cascade/Frontier Red Lion Challenge. All matches pitted a Frontier Conference team against a Cascade Conference team. The Frontier won the battle with a 17-9 record over the three days. The University of Great Falls, Montana Tech, Montana State Northern, Carroll College and Montana Western all represented the Frontier.
In their first match, the Bulldogs lost to Eastern Oregon in three sets, 19-25, 20-25, 19-25. Brittany Erickson stepped in to replace Charelle Minor, who sat out with a shoulder injury. Erickson filled in nicely with with seven kills and two blocks. Bailey Branson added 12 kills, five digs and two blocks while Paige Latimer contributed 30 assists and 10 digs.
The Bulldogs again suffered a three set loss, this time to Northwest University, 20-25, 17-25, 17-25. Branson again led the team in kills with eight while Emily Erickson had a 0.429 hitting percentage with four kills.
Montana Western turned the tables on Evergreen State College with a 25-16, 25-18, 25-21 win. The offense came alive for the Bulldogs, who hit 0.371 as a team. All seven players who took a swing registered a kill; Branson with 12, Breanne Kelley with nine, Emily Erickson with seven, Brittany Erickson and Brea Mitchell with five and Paige Latimer and Jessica Brunett with three apiece. Latimer also dished out 34 assists while Shelby Mack picked up 13 digs.
In their closest match of the tournament, the Bulldogs came up just short against Warner Pacific College in a 21-25, 19-25, 25-23, 25-21, 17-19 thriller. The match featured 38 tie scores and 18 lead changes. Three Bulldogs tallied double digits in kills: Branson with 18 and a 0.432 hitting percentage, Mitchell with 13 and Emily Erickson with 12. Branson also had 13 digs, two service aces and three blocks. Brittany Erickson contributed seven blocks while Emily Erickson had five. Mack picked up 24 digs, Olivia Nagler 10 and Latimer nine along with 44 assists.
With their energy fading after the five-set thriller, the Bulldogs suffered a loss to Corban University 26-28, 23-25, 15-25. Branson continued to dominate the net for Montana Western, pounding 14 kills and blocking four balls while also collecting seven digs. Emily Erickson had eight kills to go along with the Bulldogs’ lone service ace. Mack picked up 17 balls and Latimer dished 21 sets.
All in all, the Bulldogs continued to acquire great experience against different teams while getting a glimpse of their Frontier Conference foes. Another bright spot for Montana Western was junior outside Bailey Branson who tallied 64 total kills in the tournament. She averaged 3.76 kills per set with a 0.307 hitting percentage.
“This weekend showed us the areas we need to improve the most in order to be successful in the Frontier Conference,” senior co-captain Shelby Mack stated.
“Every team is tough and whoever shows up to play will win that night. This season is going to be a battle.”
The Bulldogs look to redeem themselves on their home floor on Wednesday, Aug. 29 and Thursday, Aug. 30 against Walla Walla University. Both games begin at 7 p.m.
— UM Western Sports Information