Coming off one of its most successful postseason runs in program history, the Montana Tech volleyball team has high expectations for the upcoming season.
There will be some lofty shoes to fill to reach that goal.
After concluding last season with their first trip to the NAIA tournament since 1988 and their first Sweet 16 appearance ever, the Orediggers are now looking for a mixture of familiar and fresh faces to step up and fill the six openings left by a talented group of graduating seniors—including two-time All-American Honorable Mention Bailie Cortner—as Montana Tech kicks off its 2017 campaign.
Tech's season begins at the HIU/Vanguard Summer Slam on Aug. 16-17 in Fullerton, California with matches against Southern Oregon, Corban, Trinity Christian and Hope International.
The 'Diggers then return home to host the Big Sky Volleyball Challenge on Aug. 25-26, before going back on the road for the Bellevue Labor Day Tournament on Sept. 1-2 in Nebraska.
Tech will then dive into conference play at Carroll College on Sept. 14 before heading home for conference matches against Lewis-Clark State, Montana Western and Rocky Mountain College.
Sixth-year head coach Brian Solomon — who holds an 87-62 record through his career at Tech — is confident that the current roster, which includes seven new recruits, can rise to the challenge.
“We have some really good players that have come in,” said Solomon during a Monday practice session in the HPER Complex. “We just need to get everyone on the same page with the system that we’re playing with and how we go about practices.”
Solomon hopes that an ability by the new players to adjust to his system will enable Tech to replicate the success it enjoyed last season, in which they compiled a 25-11 (8-4) record and outpaced their opponents in all offensive and defensive categories.
“We made a lot of improvements last year,” said Solomon. “And we have a lot of returners that are carrying that forward and allowing the newcomers to step in and compete for different roles.”
One of those returners is senior right side hitter Nicole Peacock, a Logan, Utah native who transferred from Salt Lake City Community College after her sophomore year. After last season’s success, she knows anticipation is high.
“I think everyone has expectations to do what we did last year and it’s going to be exciting because we have a new group of girls,” said Peacock, who played in 35 matches last season, registering 294 kills and ranking 11th in the Frontier Conference in total kills and kills per set. “We have some good transfers and really good freshman coming in. I think we just want to ease our way into it, start off with our team chemistry and see how we do in California.”
Other notable returners are sophomore libero Sabrina Hopcroft, who was second in the conference last year in digs, and outside hitter Gena McMillan who was sixth in total kills.
Returning junior setter Tori Chelini said it will be up to her and her teammates to fill the vacuum left by the graduating seniors.
“Last year we had some really good leaders on the team and we lost them because they were seniors,” said Chelini. “But If a few of us really step up and take charge and have a good attitude I think we’ll get back to where we were.”
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