BUTTE — Keep climbing.
Those were the words Montana Tech's Haley Druyvestein used to describe her team's approach after it won the Frontier Conference regular season title and set its sights on bigger goals.
Montana Tech’s volleyball team certainly did that, going on to clinch the Frontier Tournament for the first time.
The Orediggers have put together an unprecedented season and for seniors Druyvestein, Nicole Peacock, and Angela Molesworth the run will come to an end at the NAIA National Tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, which starts Tuesday and runs through Dec. 2 where Tech will enter the fray as the No. 14-ranked team in the country.
Montana Tech will begin pool play against Madonna University (Mich.) in its opener. Defending NAIA champion Hastings College (Neb.) is in the same pool.
Though the closing chapter will undoubtedly be a mixed package of emotions for Tech’s seniors — however the sets unfold — they’re looking to make their finale a memorable one.
“It’s just awesome to end on such a high note, no matter the outcome,” said Peacock, a right-side hitter who has registered 229 kills this season. “We know we made it and we were conference champs and tournament champs. I just want to go out fighting hard.”
The three have taken various paths to arrive at this destination with Molesworth coming to Tech just this season from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Peacock transferring from Salt Lake City Community College in 2016, and Druvyestein capping her career with a stellar season after recovering from an ACL injury.
Reaching this point and making consecutive trips to Nationals is something that they have been set on since the preseason.
“As soon as the season started we wanted to go to Nationals — then we remembered that there were 30 games before,” said Peacock with a laugh.
“It’s our first and last year together. We’re all seniors but we got here in different ways. We still have so much to accomplish and we’ve been able to do a lot in our first year together.”
Now that they’ve realized their goal, the ‘Diggers are steeling themselves for what they hope will be another lengthy venture through the tournament after making it to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history last season.
“From the get-go we know it’s gonna be a dogfight,” said Peacock. “Nothing is going to be handed to anybody.”
Having been to Nationals last season, Peacock knows the challenge – and rewards – that await the Orediggers in Iowa.
“Last year it was a big difference than what I was expecting,” said Peacock. “We got off the plane and entered the gym and it was intimidating and nerve wracking.
“But once you step on the court and the match starts you realize that you’ve accomplished everything that you could have possibly wanted to get to that point. There’s so many people watching you do what you love.”
Peacock also discussed the role that last year's seniors have had in setting the stage for a return trip to Nationals, from mentoring and encouraging current players to attending matches.
Bailie Cortner, a standout middle blocker for Tech who graduated last year, believes the 'Diggers will be more focused on the task at hand this time around.
“Last year we were all starstruck and this year they’ll be like 'We’ve been here before," said Cortner, whose twin sisters Zoe and Portia will play for Tech next season. "We worked hard last year but now they know what’s coming. They can focus on the game rather than just taking in the whole experience.”
Druyvestein, Tech’s comeback kid who returned after medical redshirting last season to lead the Orediggers with 125 total blocks, is eager for her and her team to make an encore appearance and compete against some of the best teams in the country.
“I got a taste of Nationals last year so I really wanted to make it back,” said Druvyestein. “There are great teams on either side of you and great teams across the net. Everybody is playing their best game. Records don’t count anymore and there’s nothing to lose.”
She knows that sitting out last season and making sure she was at 100 percent before taking the court again was the right thing to do.
“I don’t think I would be where I’m at if I had played last year,” said Druyvestein.
The wait was worth it. Druyvestein and Molesworth earned First-Team All-Conference honors at the conclusion of the Frontier Tournament.
Tech’s season-ending trip to Sioux City comes on the heels of the Orediggers clinching the Frontier regular season title for the first time since 1990 with a sweep of MSU-Northern and outlasting Rocky Mountain College in five sets to claim the Frontier Tournament Championship and earn an automatic bid to the NAIA Tournament.
In a season that unfolded in the afterglow of Tech’s deep 2016 postseason run, the Orediggers seniors knew that expectations would be high.
Building upon the success of last has continuously been at the forefront of their minds.
“It’s something we wanted to strive for,” said Druyvestein. “The bar was set high but we wanted to reach that and pass it.”
The trio have already begun charting their paths after they graduate. Peacock and Druyvestein are set on becoming physician assistants. The Molesworth's will likely be looking to start a family.
But before they can focus on their post-grad plans, they and their teammates have some final business to tend to in the Midwest.