HELENA -- Behind the stellar play of their three seniors, the Montana Tech Orediggers won their first ever Frontier Conference tournament volleyball title, defeating Rocky Mountain College 3-2 on Saturday at the PE Center.
“I think the whole match both teams really battled,” Orediggers coach Brian Solomon said. “Sometimes you’re on one end or the other. There was no magic in one thing we did or didn’t do. That was as good of a match as I’ve been a part of in the Frontier.”
It almost seemed destined to go five sets.
The Frontier Conference volleyball tournament – a series of sweeps and 3-1 matches – came down to the favorites on Saturday at PE Center, pitting No. 1 Montana Tech (22-8) and No. 2 Rocky Mountain College (23-11) against each other.
The tournament went to the favorites in each match, and then the Battlin’ Bears and Orediggers battled for the right to an automatic berth to the NAIA national tournament.
Once again, the favorite, by a narrow margin, prevailed.
“That was as a good of a defensive team we could ever play,” Solomon said. “We have a ton of respect for Rocky, for what they do and how they do it. We’ve very grateful and we’re pretty proud of them.”
In the first set, Montana Tech and Rocky Mountain went neck and neck until the Orediggers went on a little spree. The Orediggers controlled the first set and won 25-18.
Rocky got out ahead in the second set 5-0, and completely flipped the switch on in the second set, extending the lead to 14-6. Rocky won the second game 25-18
In the third, Rocky didn’t lose its touch. The Battlin’ Bears got out to a 9-5 lead. The Battlin’ Bears led most of the way until the Orediggers tied it up at 22. As the sides exchanged gripping rallies, it was the Battlin’ Bears who finally prevailed, 28-26.
Rocky led 2-1 before Tech put together two consecutive wins.
“I think it as more of we weren’t taking the right swings,” senior Nicole Peacock said. “We weren’t stopping on defense. Rocky is a great team and it’s frustrating when you swing as hard as you can and they dig it with ease. So it is frustrating.”
Tech opened the fourth set with an absurdly long rally and took a lead and built a five –point lead, but the Battlin’ Bears narrowed the margin to one. Rocky tied it at 11. The Orediggers found the combination of offense and defense to take an 18-15 lead and force a Rocky Mountain timeout. Orediggers built a 24-21 lead before finally winning 25-23.
Rocky struck first in the fifth. But Tech controlled the early portion of the game until Rocky tied it at 11. Tech realed off four straight points and closed the game with a Haley Druyvestein block.
Fittingly, it was a senior for Tech to close the game out and give Tech its first tournament title. Even when the Battlin’ Bears took the middle sets, Tech didn’t fold.
“Just believing in ourselves, you know?” Peacock said. “We know we can put up a good game and we did.”
The senior trio of Peacock, Druyvestein and Angela Molesworth played their first full season together, and are now leading the Orediggers to nationals.
“It’s a great feeling,” Peacock said. “It’s our first year all playing together but we knew we could do it. Angela is a transfer from Alaska and Haley redshirted last year due to injury. It’s our first year playing together and now we get to go to nationals and do more.”
No. 2-seed Rocky (23-10) punched its ticket to the conference championship with a 3-0 sweep of Western and a 3-1 victory over University of Providence in the semifinals.
No. 1-seed Montana Tech (21-8) received a bye in the first round of the tournament and then handled University of Providence 3-1 Saturday morning.
Montana Tech defeated the Battlin’ Bears 3-1 in both regular season matchups.
Tech as a team finished the game hitting. 153 with 14 team blocks.
“Sometimes you do all the work and you don’t have the opportunity to celebrate like this,” Solomon said. “This time we do. We’re very happy to enjoy it.”