SIOUX CITY, Iowa — Montana Tech’s volleyball squad entered the 2017 season with aspirations of reaching the NAIA National Championship Round of 16 for the second straight year and second time in program history.
After grinding out a five-set win over Embry-Riddle, the Orediggers realized that goal.
Led by a 23-kill performance from Frontier Player of the Year Masha Korol, No. 14 Tech outlasted the Eagles 24-26, 25-19, 24-26, 25-10, 15-11 to win its second pool match and secure a berth in the NAIA Tournament Round of 16 at the Tyson Events Center on Wednesday afternoon.
Sabrina Hopcroft led the match on defense with 29 digs, Tori Chelini supplied 33 assists, and Haley Druvyestein defended the net with a match-high nine block assists and one solo block.
Tech outpaced Embry-Riddle in attacks with 71 kills to the Eagles 51.
The Orediggers will square off against reigning champion No. 1 Hastings (Neb.) in their final pool play match on Thursday and will enter the single-elimination 16-team bracket on Friday. Hastings has swept both Embry-Riddle and Madonna through its first two matches.
Tech's venture into bracket play last season ended with the Orediggers falling to eventual third-place finisher Midland (Nebraska) in extra points in the fifth set after rallying from a 2-0 deficit.
Tech coach Brian Solomon and his team are pleased with their performance so far this time around but know that there is still work to be done.
“We feel great, but we have a huge challenge tomorrow," said Solomon. "Hopefully it will be an opportunity for us to make some improvements. We’re thrilled with the outcome and that was really the goal to make it to Friday.”
The Orediggers had to battle out of an early deficit in the opening round on Tuesday, and Wednesday's match proved no different.
Tech and Embry-Riddle jousted to 24-22 Eagles advantage in the first set with Embry-Riddle clinching the win in extra points.
The Orediggers responded by cruising to a second set victory, before the Eagles again slugged out an extra points win in the third set.
Tech settled into a rhythm and routed Embry-Riddle and then held off the Eagles in the final set to secure the match and punch its ticket to the elimination matches.
"They (Embry-Riddle) presented some challenges for us for sure," said Solomon. "It was better late than never but we did some good things along the way. We were doing great things on offense, we just needed to shore up some things defensively."
With a spot in bracket play assured, Tech's final pool play match against powerhouse Hastings will serve as a heavy-duty tune-up.
“We need to adjust a couple things," said Solomon. "Hastings is a very good team. We’ll have a couple adjustments but I think it will be great to play a team of that caliber. We just need to start preparing for Friday.”