By Bruce Sayler
Tall, athletic and focused, Westmont College of Santa Barbara, California, STATS defeated Montana Tech from probably all ways possible on Saturday – out front, rallying from behind and fighting off a final challenge.
If there are 24 better teams than 25th-ranked Westmont, than NAIA women’s volleyball would seem to be in damn good shape across this country, going by the Warriors’ 25-20, 28-26, 25-23 win over No. 17 Montana Tech.
Their match was held in the Montana Tech HPER complex in the first round of the NAIA postseason playoffs.
“They’re a good team,” said Brian Solomon, himself the head coach of a good one at Montana Tech. “I felt like the 50-50 stuff, we got behind on those – especially starting the third set.
“Give their blocking a lot of credit. The offense wasn’t what we were looking for.”
The third set spilled Oredigger tears.
They were already down by 2-0 in sets to the visitors and had fallen behind by 22-15 when a service error put Montana Tech on the brink of elimination at 23-16.
The Orediggers dug deep. Frontier Conference Player of the Year Maureen “Mo” Jessup pounded two kills. With freshman Olivia Cady then serving, the Orediggers rattled off seven more points in a row. Two were on Warrior hitting errors, bug Cady nailed an ace between the errors, and McKenna Kaelber scored on a block. Westmont fumbled a dig on a Jessop tip, then Jessop chalked up a point on block. It pulled the Orediggers even at 23-all.
Taylor Distelberg smashed a kill off a set by Alexa Shiner and Westmont was back ahead, 24-23 and sitting on match point. Ilyssa Ocampo, the Warriors’ 4-foot-10 defensive specialist, served and the teams traded hits until 6-1 Westmont sophomore Sara Krueger belted a kill.
“That was a big run,” Solomon agreed. “Were just too streaky tonight. There were a lot of big swings for us, but they were always in the right spots to block. They’re a good team.”
The Warriors roster showed nine players 5-10 or taller, including six at 6-0 or more, to load up at the net. However, the back row included Ocampo and 5-1 sophomore Kailli Hashimoto.
Westmont began the match by taking a 5-1 lead 6-1 freshman Ashley Boswell smashing a pair of kills and team leader Phoebe Minch firing an ace. Three blocks by Olivia LeBeau among four straight Oredigger points sent Montana Tech ahead 6-5. The teams tussled to 10-all, the Montana Tech point coming on another LeBeau block, before the Warriors took over the lead and held it through the first set.
Distelberg broke the tie with a well-placed tip and the Warriors maintained the advantage. A kill by Minch gave Westmont its wideset lead and also set point at 24-19. Jessop killed on a shot before Minch finished the set, also with a kill.
The second set was even more intense and went to extra serves. The biggest lead in the game was a five-point 19-14 advantage Montana Tech gained on a kill by LeBeau. The Orediggers, however, were unable to put the Warriors away.
A kill by Malone and a block by Boswell tightened the difference to 19-17 and gap stayed two or three points while the teams traded points and side-outs. A string of 10 side-outs ended with Minch and Jessie Terlizzi clobbering back-to-back kills and Montana Tech missing on a serve. The wayward serve came on set point, forcing the Orediggers, instead, into a 24-all tie. The teams exchanged points and serves to a 26-all tie before the Warriors gained the edge 27-26, on a Boswell kill. Distelberg finished off the set with by scoring on a block.
Westmont had the 2-0 lead in sets, then fended off the Orediggers in the third set for the sweep.
Montana Tech finished its season with a 24-9 record and was led Saturday by Jessop with 11 kills and Muir with five. Kaelber dished 23 assists. Sarah Hopcroft had 17 digs and Emma Carvo scooped 10. LeBeau was outstanding at the net with 10 blocks. Jessop and Muir registered four blocks each.
Westmont will take a 23-6 record to Sioux City, Iowa, for the national finals, set for November 30-December 6. Leaders for the Warriors against Montana Tech were Terlizzi with 11 kills, Minch with 11 kills, three aces and 20 digs, Keelyn Kistner with 24 assists, Shiner with 16 assists, Hashimoto with 12 digs, Distelberg with six blocks, and Krueger and Boswell with three blocks each.