DILLON — The University of Montana Western volleyball team returned back to the Straugh Gymnasium with renewed confidence on Thursday, Sept. 20 to take on the Montana State University-Northern Skylights. On Saturday, Sept. 22, the Bulldogs beat the University of Great Falls for their first conference win of the season.
After battling with Lewis-Clark State College last week, the Bulldogs showed up ready for competition, but came up just short in the five-set loss against the Skylights.
With a smaller home crowd due to block break (Montana Western operates on a block schedule under which students take one class at a time for 18 days), Montana Western had a hard time settling in. Down two games (22-25 and 20-25), the Bulldogs came alive with the help of the Montana Western football team and the determination of key players. They stormed through the third set, 25-18, and hung on in the fourth for a 25-23 win to even the match at two sets apiece.
In the race to 15, the Skylights edged out the Bulldogs 15-11. Despite the loss, Montana Western displayed many positives. Three players had double-doubles for the Bulldogs: Breanne Kelley had 13 kills and 11 digs, Bailey Branson posted 10 kills and 12 digs and Paige Latimer finished with 16 digs and a career high 48 assists.
Emily Erickson had a match and career high 18 kills (0.412 percentage) and Shelby Mack tied the match high in digs with 16. Charelle Minor also had double-digit kills with 10.
The Skylights were led by Hillary Isleifson and Abby Nicholas with 16 kills apiece. Holly Cartwright came up with 16 digs while Victoria Pollo had eight blocks.
Montana Western led in every statistical category (kills 59-52, assists 52-49, service aces 6-3 and digs 65-52) except hitting percentage (0.198-0.203) and blocks (4-14).
On Saturday, Sept. 22, the Bulldogs had a terrific team showing en route to a four-set win over the University of Great Falls, 25-16, 20-25, 26-24, 26-24.
All five Bulldog hitters reached double-digits; Brea Mitchell with 13, Bailey Branson and Emily Erickson with 12 apiece, Charelle Minor with 11 and Breanne Kelley with 10. As a team, Montana Western hit a 0.234.
Branson and Kelly also had 19 and 11 digs, respectively, to earn their second straight double-doubles. Erickson contributed 12 digs to complete her double-double.
Match-high honors went to Shelby Mack with 22 digs and Paige Latimer with 56 assists (improving on her career high from the match prior).
Minor and Mitchell added four blocks, Branson had three and Erickson had two.
“We had a good week in practice and it showed in our matches,” said senior co-captain Shelby Mack. “We know we can compete with anyone in our conference when we play our game and it was nice to show that in both our matches, especially in the win.”
Co-captain Bailey Branson said, despite tough competition, the Bulldogs are hitting their stride as a team.
“Our team has been clicking really well and we will continue to work hard and improve so we can win those close matches,” Branson added.
Head coach Lisa Griffiths said her players are performing more consistently and, in particular, are sustaining their play throughout matches.
“I am extremely proud of how the girls played this week,” Griffiths stated. “We have come so far in a short time and I was excited we could show that to our home fans. That was definitely the best sustained volleyball we have played all season. There were some great highlights, but we know we will have to continue to improve and address our weaknesses as the Frontier Conference keeps getting tougher.”
This week the Bulldogs are home again for two matches; on Friday, Sept. 28 against Rocky Mountain College and on Saturday, Sept. 29 against Frontier Conference newcomer Dickinson State University.
The Rocky Mountain Battlin’ Bears (6-12, 2-3) are lead by Ahlea Billis with 2.14 kills/set, Esther Timofeyev with 1.97 kills/set and 1.0 blocks/set and Jamie Elenbaas with 3.91 digs/set.
Dickinson State (2-11, 0-4) is lead by Melissa Avila with 2.39 kills/set, Shaunda Dvorak with 1.3 blocks/set and Chelsea Seibel with 3.86 digs/set.
— UM Western Sports Information