BUTTE — Montana Tech's volleyball squad entered its 2017 schedule at No. 14 in the NAIA coaches' preseason poll.
Saturday’s performance against Multnomah University provided a convincing resume to accompany that Top 25 ranking.
Tech looked every bit the team that reached the NAIA tournament Sweet 16 for the first time last season as the Orediggers swept past the Lions 25-14, 25-22, 25-14 in its third game of the Big Sky Volleyball Challenge at the Butte Civic Center.
The Diggers' split their two Friday matches as they outlasted Saint Francis 25-22, 24-26, 26-28, 25-23, 15-11 before being swept by No. 11 Eastern Oregon University 28-26, 25-21, 25-22.
Tech (6-2) would go on to conclude the Big Sky Challenge with a 5-set win (25-13, 24-26, 26-24, 17-25, 15-12) over tenth-ranked Grand View University to claim a 3-1 record in the tourney.
Coach Brian Solomon stressed the importance of keeping the preseason tournaments in perspective as his team now travels to another tournament in Bellevue, Nebraska before gearing up for their first conference game on the road against No. 23 Carroll College on Sept. 14.
“We want to be a long ways from where we’re at but this is the way it goes for most teams in the preseason,” said Solomon. “You get a glimpse of where you might be in a month. We’re trying to shrink that margin of error between our good games and bad games.”
Tech’s quick work against Multnomah certainly fell under that first category.
The Orediggers bolted to a 6-0 advantage in the first with junior setter Hannah Liss supplying three aces.
Tech then extended its lead to as much as 11 — fueled by multiple kills from Masha Korol and Angela Molesworth — before clinching the set with a combined block from Korol and Haley Druyvestein, both of whom delivered six kills through the match. Molesworth led both teams with seven kills.
The next set provided heightened drama as the Diggers' and Lions exchanged five ties before Multnomah eventually pulled to a 21-20 lead.
Solomon soon called for a timeout and used the break to offer his players a challenge.
"I reminded them of the things we were working on and the level that they know they can play at,” he said. “Multnomah really competed the whole time and I think we just lost some execution. It ebbs and flows like that. We just needed to be a little sharper."
After knotting the score at 22-22, Tech went on to take the next two points off block assists from Nicole Peacock, Druyvestein and Gena McMillan before Liss notched the set with another ace.
Peacock felt her team began to hit its stride at that point.
“I think once the second and third set hit we started to make smarter decisions with our swinging, with where our setters were setting the ball and with our serving,” said Peacock. “We just kept mixing it up and they never really had time to adjust. That’s when I think we started to pull away.”
After breaking a 3-3 tie in the final set, Tech methodically dispatched Multnomah to clinch the match with junior setter Tori Chelini frequently positioning the 'Diggers to deliver knockout hits on her way to racking up a game-high 21 assists.
With the Big Sky Challenge behind them, the Orediggers now turn their attention to the Midwest.
"We've got a really competitive weekend coming up," said Solomon, referencing the Bellevue Labor Day Tournament on Friday and Saturday where the 'Diggers will compete against colleges from Iowa and Kansas. "We've got a long ways to go, but I like what we're doing."
Note: In the win over Grand View, Angela Molesworth led Tech with 15 kills while Gena McMillan and Masha Korol each added 13. Kamaile Moody provided 30 assists and Tori Chelini had 24. Both Chelini and McMillan delivered two aces.