The University of Montana Western Volleyball season came to an end on Friday, Nov. 15, when they faced Montana State-Northern in the opening round of the Frontier Conference Tournament. Following their sweep of Dickinson State on Thursday for the play-in game, the team fell to the No. 1 seeded Skylights.
“The team came so far this season. It was great to see the girls continue to improve from the beginning to the end and I think we played our best volleyball of the year at the conference tournament,” head coach Lisa Griffiths said.
The Bulldogs will lose two seniors, Bailey Branson and Charelle Minor, from this years’ team. They return, however, their team leaders in four key statistical areas. Paige Latimer led the UMW team in assists with over 580 over the course of the season. Emily Erickson led the team in kills with over 330 during her junior campaign. Transfer, Kendra Mendicino, led the team in aces and had over 540 digs which led the team as well.
“I'm excited that we are returning the majority of the team and the girls have so much more potential to improve,” Griffiths said. “This past offseason blocking and defense were our major focuses and those were much improved this season. We won't have to add a lot of players but are excited about the addition of more impact players who can continue to challenge our returners and raise the level in the gym.”
Griffiths has already announced the addition of Stevensville, Mont., senior, Kyla Paulsen, earlier this fall. She will join a team that loses two key components but returns the nucleus of the squad. The Bulldogs gained valuable experience this season, not only through their difficult Frontier Conference schedule, but their non-conference schedule was extremely challenging as well.
“We had by far the most challenging schedule we have had since I have been at Montana Western, and it was great to see the team prepare and step up to the challenge early," said Griffiths. "We played 11 matches against teams ranked or receiving votes for the top 25 and we were right there in the mix every time.”
The Montana Western volleyball team enters their offseason looking to take strides towards the top of the conference. The team has a solid core and will continue to work together while, Coach Griffiths believes, they will only need to add a piece or two to the existing roster.
“Emily, Breanne, Kendra and Brea were all playing great volleyball at the end of the season,” Coach Griffiths said. “Kendra is capable of covering so much ground in the backrow and she frustrates opponents with her defense. Emily, Breanne and Brea were all carrying big loads in the front row and having all of that offensive fire power returning is great for us. We also return all of our setters and a great group of freshmen who made significant contributions over the course of the season. The potential in the group is exciting and, while the time off is necessary and well-deserved, I think we are all looking towards next year already and setting dreams and goals high.”