After a brief hiatus in 2018, the Montana Tech Orediggers return to the NAIA National Tournamnet.
A 25-7 season record with a run to the final of the Frontier Conference tournament see head coach Brian Solomon and Tech hit the road to Sioux City, Iowa, where the Orediggers will open up with pool play against Indiana Wesleyan, Saint Mary (Kan.) and Concordia (Neb.)
Solomon says that he’s been pleased to reach the national stage once again, and that this season has been a preparation for Tech’s return.
“This is our third chance in four seasons to represent our school,” Solomon said. “We have several players that have been there and played well before, and hopefully we can rely on their experience a bit. The way we’ve been preparing all season is for something like this, not just the league or one weekend.”
Like the Orediggers, the entirety of Tech’s group, Pool C, was also absent from last year’s NAIA tournament. Furthermore, Tech has not played any of their opening opponents in the past couple of years.
The eighth-year head coach said that while the Orediggers haven’t had on-court experience against their opposition, the preparation has been as a deep as any other opponent, thanks to film study and the extended break after the Frontier Conference tournament.
“We’ve had film on the teams for over a week now,” Solomon said. “They aren’t teams we haven’t seen in the last year or two, but we’ve had a chance to look over things and take some notes.”
Tech will hope to continue the production that the lethal trio of outside hitters Maureen Jessop, Karina Mickelson and Gina McMillan have put out. The three have combined for 1015 total kills, 69 percent of the Orediggers’ total kill count.
Setter McKenna Kaelber has also been crucial to Tech’s success, notching 1065 of Tech’s 1339 assists over the course of the 2019 season.
The only Frontier team joining the Orediggers in Iowa is Providence, who bested Tech 3-0 in the Frontier Conference Tournament final.
While Solomon admits that there were issues with his team’s performance, their play in the final and throughout the conference tournament was encouraging and provided a chance for Tech to reflect on how to improve.
“I thought we played really well in that last game,” Solomon said. “It was good for us to see where we were at and to identify a couple things.”
With a handful of days remaining before the Orediggers’ final tournament of the year, Tech is optimistic. A mix of veterans and younger players have propelled Tech to one of their best seasons yet.
Solomon acknowledged the progress Tech has made, and says that he and his team are optimistic of how well they can do if they execute.
“If we can go play as well as we can,” Solomon said. “We’ll have a real chance of getting out of the pool. Our offensive opportunities will present some problems for any teams we see. We’re playing some accomplished teams, but we just need to stay focused on playing our own best game.”
Tech opens up the NAIA National Tournament at the Tyson’s Event Center, opening with Concordia on Dec. 3.