By Bruce Sayler
Tall, athletic and focused Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., STATS defeated Montana Tech in probably every way imaginable on Saturday – in front, catching up from behind and fending off one final challenge.
When there are 24 better teams than 25th-ranked Westmont, as NAIA women’s volleyball, seems to be in damn good shape in this country judging by the Warriors’ 25-20, 28-26, 25-23 win over No. 17 Montana Tech.
Their match took place in the first round of the NAIA Postseason Playoffs at the Montana Tech HPER complex.
“They’re a good team,” said Brian Solomon, himself head coach of a good team at Montana Tech. “I was keen on the 50-50 stuff, that’s where we fell behind – especially at the beginning of the third set.
“Believe their block a lot of credit. The offensive wasn’t what we were looking for.”
Oredigger shed tears in the third set.
They were already 2-0 in sets against the visitors and had fallen 22-15 behind when a serve error put Montana Tech on the brink of elimination at 23-16.
The Orediggers dug deep. Frontier Conference Player of the Year Maureen “Mo” Jessup had two kills. With freshman Olivia Cady serving, the Orediggers rattled off seven more points in a row. Two were on warrior hitting errors, Bug Cady nailed an ace between errors and McKenna Kaelber hit with a block. Westmont fumbled for a Jessop tip, then Jessop chalked a point on block. It even attracted the Orediggers at 23.
Taylor Distelberg hit a kill after a set by Alexa Shiner and Westmont was up again, 24-23, sitting on match point. Ilyssa Ocampo, the Warriors’ 4-foot-10 defensive specialist, served and the teams traded hits until 6-1, Westmont student Sara Krueger pulled off a kill.
“That was a great run,” agreed Solomon. “Were just too mixed tonight. There were a lot of big hits for us, but they were always in the right places to block them. They are a good team.”
The Warriors roster featured nine players who were 5-10 or greater, including six who were 6-0 or greater, to charge at net. However, in the back row were Ocampo and 5-1 coed Kailli Hashimoto.
Westmont started the match with a 5-1 lead, freshman Ashley Boswell at 6-1, who had two kills, and team leader Phoebe Minch, who fired an ace. Three blocks from Olivia LeBeau under four straight Oredigger points sent Montana Tech a 6-5 lead. The teams tussled to 10-all, the Montana Tech Point getting on another LeBeau block before the Warriors took the lead and held it through the first set.
Distelberg broke the tie with a well-placed tip and the Warriors retained the advantage. A kill from Minch gave Westmont his sweeping lead and set the point at 24-19. Jessop killed on one shot before Minch finished the set, also on one kill.
The second set was even more intense and involved extra serves. The biggest lead of the game was a five-point lead of 19-14, which Montana Tech gained through a kill from LeBeau. However, the Orediggers were unable to drive off the warriors.
A kill from Malone and a block from Boswell narrowed the gap to 19-17 and the gap stayed two or three points as teams traded points and side-outs. A string of 10 side-outs ended with Minch and Jessie Terlizzi getting back-to-back kills and Montana Tech missing on a serve. The erratic serve came to set point, forcing the Orediggers to a 24-all tie instead. The teams traded points and serves for a 26-tie before the Warriors took a 27-26 lead after a Boswell kill. Distelberg ended the sentence with a block hit.
Leading in sets 2-0, Westmont fended off the Orediggers for the sweep in the third set.
Montana Tech finished its season with a 24-9 record and was led by Jessop with 11 kills and Muir with five on Saturday. Kaelber dished out 23 assists. Sarah Hopcroft had 17 digs and Emma Carvo scooped 10. LeBeau excelled at the net with 10 blocks. Jessop and Muir each registered four blocks.
Westmont will bring a 23-6 record to Sioux City, Iowa for the National Finals, scheduled for November 30th through December 6th. Leading the Warriors against Montana Tech were Terlizzi with 11 kills, Minch with 11 kills, three aces and 20 digs, Keelyn Kistner with 24 assists, Shiner with 16 assists, Hashimoto with 12 digs, Distelberg with six blocks, and Krueger and Boswell with each three blocks.