BUTTE — Brian Solomon sat in his office with the newly-minted Frontier Conference and Frontier Tournament trophies placed on his desk and awaiting their final destinations in the glass trophy case at the HPER Complex lobby.
"We were obviously very excited," said Solomon of the second trophy, which came on the heels of Tech winning the Frontier Tournament for the first time in program history after gutting out a five-set win over Rocky Mountain College in the title match. "It was certainly an accomplishment and a match worth celebrating."
The sixth-year coach and his volleyball team now have one more piece of hardware to pursue.
The Orediggers, fresh off claiming the Frontier Conference for the first time since 1990 and emerging as the Frontier Tournament Champions, will conclude their season at the NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, at the Tyson Event Center. The tournament starts on Tuesday and the Orediggers hope to still be there when it wraps up on Dec. 2. It will be the ‘Diggers second straight trip to Nationals and the third since 1988.
Tech will enter the tournament as the NAIA’s No. 14-ranked team and carrying a 22-8, 10-2 record. The team's only conference losses of the season came in a five-set stumble to Carroll College and a sweep to Providence — a defeat that Tech avenged by downing the Argos in four sets in the Frontier Tournament semifinals.
The Orediggers then clinched the tournament after outlasting Rocky Mountain in a wild match that saw the two teams combined for 345 digs.
“It felt great and it got us to our goal of the postseason again," said Solomon, who was tabbed as the Frontier Conference's coach of the year. "One of our main goals was returning to the National Tournament with the team we have. We were pretty ecstatic to enjoy that.”
Last season’s venture to the national tournament ended with Tech surviving pool play and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time. The Orediggers went on to fall to eventual third-place finisher Midland (Nebraska) in five sets after rallying from a 2-0 deficit.
Solomon has seen enough from his team — not the least of which was Tech’s gutsy win over Rocky — to believe that the Orediggers are poised to make strong another run.
“I’ve seen glimpses of what we can do,” said Solomon. “If we can peak we’ll have some great opportunities to get out of pool play again and at that point just compete for every single point.”
Tech has been placed in Pool C and will compete against defending champion and third-ranked Hastings, No. 18 Madonna (Mich.) and Embry-Ridde (Ariz.). The top two teams from the pool will advance to the 16-team bracket.
Make it out of pool play, Solomon believes, and anything can happen.
"When you get to that Round of 16, it's open season," said Solomon. "The parity is really close this season. It’s just going to come down to which team plays the best at the right moments. There’s no secret ingredient."
Some other things to watch for as Tech heads to Nationals.
Attack formation: The bulk of Tech's offense will come from hitters Angela Molesworth, Masha Korol, Gena McMillan and Nicole Peacock. The four have combined for over 1,000 kills this season, with Molesworth being the leader at 300.
Molesworth, a senior transfer from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, was named a First Team All-Conference player and Korol, a junior transfer from Eastern Arizona Community College, was tabbed as the Frontier's Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year.
Center stage: Middle blocker Haley Druyvestein has shown no lingering issues from the ACL injury that sidelined her for the 2016 season and has registered a team-leading 21 solo blocks and 104 block assists.
Druyvestein's solid senior season earned her First Team All-Conference honors.
Matches can be seen through godiggers.com by going to the team's schedule page.