By Bruce Sayler
Montana Tech was a terrific volleyball team on Saturday night.
The Orediggers played their fourth match of the season and their fourth of their Big Sky Volleyball Challenge on Saturday at the HPER complex and found themselves fit for a four-set victory over regular domestic contender Vanguard, of Costa Mesa, Calif.
Montana Tech sailed through the first two sets, stumbled in the third and then edged the Lions in the fourth. The sets scores were 25-18, 25-16, 23-25, 26-24.
“Yeah, we did some really good things tonight,” Orediggers head coach Brian Solomon said cheerfully as the crowd marched out of the Montana Tech HPER complex. “Our blocking was so strong and gave the team game opportunities. We came out very well blocking.
Montana Tech tackles posted 16 of the saves, including nine by Alexis Umland and five by Taylor Henley in a strong frontline performance. Maureen Jessop’s 22 eliminations were also the subject of a showcase for frontliners.
13eThe 3-1 ranked Orediggers went 3-1 in the encounter with their only loss to No.9 ranked Viterbo on Thursday.
“We definitely have to do some things in our service game,” Solomon said. “We dug ourselves a hole in the last game.
“Our midfielders were active in our blocking game and swung the game in our direction.”
Jessop’s first kill and a string of Vanguard errors gave Montana Tech a 5-1 lead going into the game. The Lions recovered, but never caught up the set. The Orediggers had a seven-point lead, 22-15, after a tip from Roslyn Zentz. Vanguard battled it to 22-17 before a tip from Megan Benton netted her the goal. A serve error returned possession to the Lions, but Hailey Peterson fired a shot from beyond the baseline and Montana Tech had a 1-0 lead in the game.
The Orediggers also led the entire second set. They built the lead to 4-1, again on a kill from Jessop and some errors from Vanguard. The difference was pretty static until Logan Reed had a four-point lead to the 22-13 Orediggers bulge. Emma Carvo had a serve for the set point, 24-14, and, two serves later, Benton hit the kill. It ended the set and Montana Tech was sailing 2-0 in the game score.
“The game changed gears when Vanguard changed some things in the third set,” Solomon said.
He took a 6-3 lead in the change of pace as Cambria Fernandez and Delaney Hill led the uprising. They held a lead until Jessop blew a kill to forge a tie at 12. Montana Tech took the lead on a Henley block and widened it a bit to 20-17 on another ace by Carvo.
Callie Bickmore hit a kill for the Lions who tied the count at 20-all. The teams went point-for-point to a 24-23 advantage which Vanguard won on Petersen hammering a 50-50 ball. Hill followed with a kill and the Lions had won a set.
The competition remained intense and close throughout the fourth set. Montana Tech appeared to have taken command at 21-16 after another Benton kill. The Lions fell back and caught the Orediggers at match point, leveling the set at 24-all when a shot from Benton sailed wide out of bounds.
A sharp comeback from Umland in a flurry to the net led Vanguard to commit a four-hit violation, then the Orediggers won the set and the game on a point kill from Jessop.
Henley had seven kills for the team’s second place finish behind Jessop. Zentz had 41 assists. Jessop increased his kill total with 13 digs, second on the team behind the 15 posted by libero Jelena Jablanov.
Hill was Vanguard’s kills leader with 11, Rachel Lim set up 20 assists, Blair Dodge had 22 digs and Petersen paced the Lions in blocks with four.
“It was a really successful tournament,” Solomon said. “There were a lot of top teams and I got a lot of positive feedback from the coaches and the teams.”
The encounter was originally scheduled to be played at the Butte Civic Center, but was moved to the HPER Complex and Maroon Activities Center due to the Civic Center being used for work related to the production of the upcoming TV mini-series “1923”. .
“It was a big logistical challenge, but we still had some great venues,” Solomon said. “We’ve had a lot of help from Butte (government), the Butte community, and our other coaches and staff here at Montana Tech. We had good sized crowds.
“It was successful.”
The Orediggers travel to Great Falls this week for a series of non-conference games, taking on North Dakota’s Jamestown on Thursday, then Arizona Christian on Friday morning and The Master’s University of California on Friday night.