Frontier Conference tourney time for Bulldogs

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Rising to the occasion

UMW’s Abbey Schwager (left) and Cady Siemion elevate to turn back an opponent’s shot in a Frontier Conference match in Dillon earlier this season. The Bulldogs will attempt to elevate themselves into the NAIA national tourney by winning the Frontier Conference Tournament this week. M.P. Regan photo

A Frontier Conference volleyball regular season so sprawling and unusual it refused to be contained by any definitions of ‘regular’ or even within a single calendar year will funnel down to a tight, typically ruthless reckoning this week.

Set for April 6–10, the Frontier Conference Volleyball Tournament will pit the league’s half-dozen teams against one another in single-elimination matches until only remains standing and celebrating Saturday.

Coming in as the fifth seed, the University of Montana Western (3-15) kickstarts the tourney in a showdown with Montana Tech (8-10) set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 6, in Butte.

“You practice and compete all year, but it all comes down to the tourney for which team gets that automatic bid for the national tournament,” noted UMW Head Coach Katie Lovett on how her Bulldogs could cap a tough season with a berth in the NAIA National Volleyball Championships set to start April 17.

The Bulldogs will have to run a rough table to get that automatic bid, starting with a sprint up to Butte to play their closest rival, though a team that’s remained at a distance most all year.

“Going to Butte is an easy trip for us, at least in terms of distance. We played pretty well there this season. We’re just hoping some things work out in our favor and things go our way,” said Lovett, whose Bulldogs lost a pair of matches while winning three games at Tech in February.

“I think both teams are pretty well matched up and it should be good,” said Lovett of a Tech team her Bulldogs were supposed to play again two weekends back in Dillon before the matches got canceled due to COVID concerns.

“Tech has two really good outside hitters and their middles are starting to make a big impact, too,” said Lovett of a Diggers front line that ranks fourth in the NAIA in blocks, with an average of 2.7 per game, anchored by 6-foot-3- inch Sydney Parks—who rejected 81 opposing efforts this season.

But Western is also well staffed at the net, where 6-foot-1-inch UMW middle blocker Emmah Peterson returned 71 opposing efforts to senders this season and outside hitter Cady Siemion spiked 198 kills.

“Our go-to all year has been Cady Siemion, but I think the best games we’ve played this season have come when other players have stepped up as well. So, it’s really a collective effort we’re looking for,” said Lovett, whose Bulldog backline doggedly work to keep opponents shots from failing for points, as does Tech’s.

“Neither team ever lets a ball drop without a player diving to the floor,” said Lovett of the mirror image of effort that will likely be on display again when the rivals meet in the conference tourney this week, with UMW’s Tannah Sellers leading her team with 339 digs this year, while the Diggers digging boasts Hannah Oggerino (332 digs in 2021).

“Both teams give a ton of effort on every ball, and that’s what makes games exciting.”

The stakes played for will also make this week’s Frontier Conference tourney games exciting.

“That’s the special thing about the conference tournament—and why everybody gets a little bit more geared up and excited for it,” added Lovett, of the automatic bid to the national tournament awarded the winner of this week’s league tourney.

If the Bulldogs get past Montana Tech in the first round of the conference tourney, they will likely have to travel to Great Falls on Thursday, April 8, for a 7 p.m. match against the University of Providence, the league’s top team.

“Providence is a phenomenal team,” said Lovett of the Argos (18-2), who in the most recent NAIA Coaches Poll ranked no. 16, one spot ahead of Frontier stablemate Rocky Mountain College (15-3)—a potential conference tourney final opponent for UMW, if the Bulldogs make it to Saturday’s 7 p.m. league tourney championship match.

The Frontier Conference’s season-long policy on no fans attending matches will hold through the league tourney this week. Though games may be available for online viewing.

See next week’s Dillon Tribune for a full recap of how Montana Western fared at the Frontier Conference volleyball tournament.