Western volleyball off and running

DILLON — University of Montana Western volleyball has been back in action since Aug. 1. After successful double-day practices, the team traveled to Riverside, Calif. for a pre-season tournament on Aug. 17 and 18.

Before traveling, head coach Lisa Griffiths noted that her returning players and new recruits were already meshing well in practice and she is confident the team is well poised for success in 2012.

They finished the week with a 2-2 record, with wins coming against San Diego Christian (Calif.) in three sets and Hope International (Calif.) in four sets. Their two losses came at the hands of La Sierra (Calif.) and Cal State San Marcos, both in three sets.

Co-captains Shelby Mack (senior) and Bailey Branson (junior) will be leading their young but experienced team this season. Both were very excited to get the season going to show how far the team has come with their off-season work.

“This season we’re prepared to go into each match expecting to win,” Branson stated.

Griffiths was equally excited to finally see the team on the court.

“It is great to have our first weekend under our belt,” Griffiths added. “There were definitely high and low points but that seems to be what the first weekend is about: getting out on the court, getting comfortable and seeing what we are made of.”

The Bulldogs struggled in their first outing against La Sierra, losing 11-25, 13-25 and 22-25. Libero Shelby Mack collected 19 digs and middle blocker Charelle Minor had four kills and three blocks.

Montana Western picked up the pace for match two against San Diego Christian, winning 25-21, 26-24 and 25-12. The Bulldogs were led at the net by outsides Bailey Branson and Breanne Kelley with 11 and nine kills, respectively. Middle blocker Brea Mitchell contributed 10 kills and two blocks. Right side Emily Erickson added four blocks while Mack again led the backcourt with 13 digs. Setter Paige Latimer came up with 25 assists and three aces. As a team, the Bulldogs had a 0.408 hitting percentage compared with San Diego Christian’s 0.202

Against Cal State San Marcos, the Bulldogs faltered in a 16-25, 22-25, 17-25 loss. The middles led the attack with Mitchell tallying seven kills and one block while Minor added four kills and two blocks. Outside hitter Jess Brunett also contributed four kills and two service aces.

The Bulldogs again responded to a loss with a 25-23, 22-25, 25-13, 25-19 win over Hope International. Mitchell played an excellent match with four blocks and 21 kills with a 0.714 hitting percentage. Other contributors included Branson with nine kills and 11 digs, Minor with 10 kills and two blocks, Latimer with 45 assists and 11 digs, Mack with 22 digs and Erickson with five blocks.

“There are definitely parts of our game that need work, but it was great to see where the team is at,” Griffiths stated. “I was especially happy with the play of freshman Brea Mitchell and senior Shelby Mack. They both handled the pressure well and played with the level of consistency we will need in the Frontier Conference.”

On a side note, Brea Mitchell, a freshman middle blocker out of Pocatello, Idaho, was selected as the Frontier Conference Player of the Week. She averaged 3.08 kills/set with a 0.456 hitting percentage. Mitchell also acquired two service aces, four digs, and nine blocks over the weekend. This is the first honor given to a Montana Western volleyball player in at least five years.

— UM Western Sports Information