UMW netters behind the “eighth” ball

Montana Western’s Brea Mitchell displays the ability that put her on the Frontier Conference All-Freshman Team a year ago. Mitchell and her teammates hope to disappoint league coaches who predicted the Lady Bulldogs to finish eighth in the league standings. Jess Alberi photo

 

The University of Montana Western volleyball team held their first practice on Aug. 8, determined to prove that their no. 8 preseason ranking in the Frontier Conference doesn’t reflect the true quality of their team.  

The Lady Bulldogs open their 2013 season by heading to Spokane on Thursday for the Red Lion Cascade-Frontier Conference Challenge tournament. The Dawgs will start the tournament against Corban University and then compete in a match against Oregon Tech. 

This year’s team is again led by Lisa Griffiths, who enters her third season as the Lady Bulldog head coach. She is joined by third-year assistant Mikel Griffiths and second- year assistant and Dillon native Susanne Rehse. 

The Bulldogs boast a talented roster packed with good athletes from Montana and all over the Northwest. The young Lady Dawgs lost just two seniors from last year’s team and will again be anchored by just two seniors in their 2013 campaign.

“With ten returners and eight juniors and seniors, we will have more experience than we have had in my previous two years," said Griffiths, a Michigan State alumna. 

“I'm hoping that experience and maturity will help us with the challenging schedule we have in front of us.”

Seniors Charelle Minor is a 6-1 middle blocker from Pocatello, ID, and Bailey Branson is a heavy-handed outside hitter from Missoula Sentinel High.

Six juniors will provide Minor and Branson with support. Paige Latimer will again be the main setter for the Dawgs and will be joined by Breanne Kelley at outside hitter. Emily Erickson is also known to pound the ball. Olivia Nagler will play Libero, as will Kendra Mendicino, a transfer who started for two years for San Diego Mesa College, where she earned MVP honors and helped her team finish as co-champions both years. Madison Mansch is a setter out of Missoula Sacred Heart.  

The sophomores on the team are led by Brea Mitchell, a Frontier Conference All-Freshman team member a year ago. Brittany Erickson is a tall middle blocker out of Missoula Big Sky and Mikayla Ness, the team’s other six footer, will be counted on as a outside hitter. 

A promising group of new recruits are looking to make an impact for Western’s 2013 volleyball team. A setter from Challis, ID, Rachelle Chamberlain helped lead Challis High School to an undefeated season and a state championship last year. Another state champion, Jessie Glidewell, who won a Washington state title with Colville High School, signed with the Bulldogs in early January and will be playing outside hitter. A freshman from Burley, ID, who made it to nationals last year with her club team, the Pocatello Elite, Bailey Wilson can play outside or right side hitter as well as middle blocker. The last member of Western’s outstanding 2013 freshman recruiting class is Montana’s own Jami Flink, a libero from Missoula who graduated from Sentinel High School, where she earned MVP honors her senior year.  

“There's a lot of competition for the starting libero spot and it's been exciting to watch the girls battle,” said Griffiths, who brings eight years coaching experience to the floor.  

“Olivia comes in with the experience here at UMW and in the Frontier Conference, but Kendra has two years starting experience at the junior college level, where she was highly successful. We have also added Jami into that mix and she has come in ready to work and compete for a spot and has done a fantastic job.

“Kendra's experience and composure on the court will likely earn her the first start, but I can see them all contributing on the floor this season.”

The Montana Western volleyball team will host its first home game on Sept 13, when Frontier Conference rival Westminster comes to Dillon.