HELENA -- Taelyr Krantz and the Carroll College Saints had a first of sorts this season.
The group – often the sole focus in the PE Center– sat and watched volleyball games in their gym on Friday. It was the opening day of the Frontier Conference Tournament, and the hosts and No. 3-seeded Saints played the No. 6-seed MSU-Northern in the nightcap.
Less than a week after ending the regular season with a 3-1 loss to Rocky Mountain College, Krantz and her teammates watched the Battlin’ Bears – who played before Carroll -- and hoped.
“We were hoping Rocky would win so we could get another chance to put it down and prove we deserve to be up there with them,” Krantz said Friday.
First, the Saints had to handle business against the Skylights.
Carroll swept MSU-N 3-0 – 25-16, 25-14, 25-19 – to show there would be no Rocky hangover during the conference tournament.
“I think the girls have been really focused all week,” Saints coach Moe Boyle said. “They have been playing together for really, together as a unit, the last four or five weeks. IT’s nice as a coaching staff to be able to watch this culminate for them. I think it says a lot about the character of the team.”
Northern tested the Saints early, jumping out to a 7-2 lead and prompting a timeout from Boyle. Boyle and the Saints weren’t immune to the nerves with the higher stakes of a conference tournament. Each team on the day had similar jittery starts.
“When you’re in your own backyard and you’re supposed to perform well, there’s pressure,” Boyle said. “It’s the conference tournament and every point matters now. I think that they felt it.”
Carroll responded, bouncing back and rolling to a 25-16 victory in the first game. The Saints wouldn’t slow down either, taking the next two games in aggressive fashion, led in part by Krantz. Krantz led the Saints with 10 kills, finish with a hitting percentage of 43.
“Our passes were on fire tonight,” Krantz said. “When you have passes that close, you have all three hitters involved and you just keep your blockers guessing. When everyone is firing it’s hard to get a block up against our hitters and it’s hard to keep us off the ground.”
Rayna Pilgeram provided 33 assists. Behind Krantz, Mallory Arbizzani had nine kills, Brielle Bumgarner finished with eight and Pilgeram and Casey McInerney each finished with seven to lead the Saints.
“I was excited about how aggressive our offense was and that our front row kept swinging,” Boyle said. “They got a lot balls up and we kept swinging away and swinging away and finding the open spots.”
Carroll entered the tournament on a six-game winning streak, until running into Rocky Mountain College, who had swept the Saints earlier in the season. In the last match of the season, Rocky dealt the Saints a 3-1 loss.
It didn’t have any residual effect. The Saints, save the opening games’ first few points, were sharp on Friday.
“We have that passion to come back,” Krantz said. “We’re not settling for anything other than first. We’re fighting tooth and claw to get there. That performance that you saw is just a glimpse of what you’re going to see tomorrow because we have the passion and drive to get there.”
It certainly helps the Saints the host of the Frontier Conference Tournament. Boyle said it’s important for her Saints to be able to be at home and on personalized schedules. On the road, the team often does most things together.
“Sometimes that wears on you,” Boyle said. “It’s nice to be able to sleep in your own bed and have that space. I’m hoping it benefits us tomorrow.”
Rocky defeated Montana Western 3-0, giving Krantz and the Saints exactly what they wanted.
“It’s redemption,” Krantz said. “I think tomorrow you’re going to see how we can play against them and prove that we can compete.”
Boyle said her crew is excited to have another chance to take down Rocky.
“Third time’s a charm,” Boyle said.