BUTTE The Montana Tech Orediggers will host the Westmont College (Calif.) Warriors Saturday night at the HPER Complex in Butte.
Game time at Kelvin Sampson Court is 7 p.m
The Orediggers finished the Frontier Conference regular season with a 9-1 record and 24-8 overall. Unfortunately, Tech lost to a solid Montana Western roster in the conference tournament.
The Warriors ended the Golden State Athletic Conference regular season with a 15-3 record and 22-6 aggregate score as the Golden State Athletic Conference winners. Wolves lost to William Jessup University in the final of the GSAC tournament.
Both teams played grueling tournaments leading up to the conference that put them to the test.
With six teams in the Frontier Conference, Montana Tech was able to play an additional tournament within their conference schedule.
As the host of August’s Big Sky Challenge, Tech lost 3-1 at HPER, losing the opener to Viterbo and winning against Cornerstone, Bushnell and Vanguard.
At the Electric City Invitation in Great Falls, the Orediggers dropped two out of three in the leaderboard. Tech lost to University of Jamestown and Arizona Christian before beating The Master’s University (California).
The Bellvue Invitational was another tournament where the Orediggers lost two games to ranked opponents Columbia International and Dakota Wesleyan before closing out the tournament with a win over Ottawa University Arizona.
Tech blitzed through the Frontier/North Star Crossover tournament with a four-game sweep before winning three of four in the Frontier Conference Preseason Tournament.
The Viterbo tournament featured a three-game sweep for the Orediggers on October 14-15.
“We’ve had the opportunity to travel and play different teams,” said Montana Tech head coach Brian Solomon. “It has given us the opportunity to play teams from our conference and in Westmont’s conference (Golden State Athletic Conference). We played against many different teams and saw different styles. It’s that playstyle that gave us some of that experience in preseason matchups.”
“In the end you feel so comfortable with the conference teams and the conference tournament; They tend to go through the motions at times,” said tech middle-hitter Maureen Jessop. “You have the same schedule every week. If you play them a second time, you’ll know how to play them. Being able to play against different teams that are always present at the national championships, they show you a different skill than what you are used to from our conference. It was very helpful.”
In the tournament schedule, Tech went 15-6.
“At this time of year we’re used to thinking about national teams and then there’s a lull,” said Jessop. “Around mid-season you’re just trying to get through school and volleyball and how mundane things can be at times. Not this season. This team was excited every day they walked into the gym. It was exciting to still be able to go to the nationals and host a national game.”
Brian Solomon and his Orediggers racked up a ton of awards after the Frontier Conference tournament.
Solomon was named Frontier Coach of the Year and assistant coach Kristi Arntson was named assistant coach of the year, along with Northern’s Al Givens and Rocky Mountain College’s Casie Lowden.
Outside hitter Maureen Jessop was named Conference Player of the Year, leading the Orediggers with 447 kills and 1,387 total tackles.
McKenna Kaelber shared the award for Setter of the Year with RMC’s Blythe Sealey. Kaelber had 692 assists.
Defensive specialist/Libero Olivia Caddy was named the conference’s Freshman of the Year. Caddy led Tech with 480 digs.
Seniors Jessop, Taylor Henley and Olivia Muir were named to the 2022 Frontier Conference All-Conference First Team.
Henley had 252 kills and 135 blocks. Muir contributed 781 attacks, 270 kills, 95 digs, and 67 blocks.
Kaelber, a senior, was named to the Second Team, Caddy and Kinnidi Willmore were all named to the All-Conference All-Freshman Team, and Emma Carvo was Tech’s Volleyball Champion of Character.
Willmore contributed 168 assists and 39 digs. Carvo added 257 digs for the Orediggers.
“I’m prouder that the team can celebrate a conference championship,” Solomon said. “Being named Coach of the Year is a nice honor from your peers. The student athletes got the experience this year, and it was all about increasing their achievements. Everyone has also worked hard, from 1 to 17 have contributed to what they have accomplished individually and as a team. I am very proud of each of them.”
The challenges of the Frontier Conference made Tech’s journey to the NAIA national playoffs a rewarding one. From top to bottom, the Orediggers, who were 9-1 in conference action, were challenged flawlessly every night.
“I think conference play set us up for the road ahead,” Solomon said. “Being challenged every night is a whole different kind of growth for a team. Either you grow from it or you don’t make it through our league. You don’t have a night off. We have many large teams in our conference. What we see coming in here on Saturday will look familiar. They are a very good team but they will have a very similar feeling to what we have experienced in the last few months.”
Westmont is an attacking team that distributes the ball well on the pitch.
The Warriors’ out-of-conference schedule was also a challenge. At the Hope International Tournament, the Warriors went 2-2 after losing games to nationally-ranked Dordt and Corban.
Westmont cleaned up the Bellvue tournament because Westmont was 6-2 in his tournament schedule.
Tech played four of Westmont’s GSAC opponents: Vanguard, The Master’s, Arizona Christian and Ottawa University Arizona. The Orediggers were 3-1 against these teams in tournament play. The Warriors went 7-1 against the four schools in conference action.
Keelyn Kistner (574 assists), Alexa Shiner (422 assists), and Kaili Hashimoto (130 assists) shared the assist wealth among Phoebe Minch (310 kills, 833 attacks), Lexi Malone (276 kills, 657 attacks, 98 blocks). and Jesse Terlizzi (249 kills, 794 attacks).
Hashimoto (426 litters), Minch (407 litters), Kistner (295 litters), Ilyssa Ocampo (196 litters) and Shiner are the top 5 wolves.
Malone, Taylor Distelberg (92 blocks), and Sara Krueger (55 blocks) are major contributors along the net line.
Having an NAIA playoff game on Tech’s home floor is an honor not lost on Jessop.
“It’s a great honor to host a national playoff game,” Jessop said. “We lost to Montana Western in our tournament game (Frontier Conference) so that was disappointing. It’s a huge advantage to still be able to host the game and feel comfortable on our pitch. The height will also be a big advantage. We are very happy to be hosts.”