HELENA -- The Carroll College Saints volleyball team couldn’t solve the Rocky Mountain Battlin’ Bears in the regular season.
In the semifinals of the Frontier Conference tournament, the Saints still couldn’t solve them.
“Rocky doesn’t make very many errors,” Saints coach Moe Boyle said. “Sometimes we’d have untimely errors and sometimes they’d just have a really good kills. That’s the same kind of battle we had in Billings.”
No. 3 Carroll showed resolve in the sets two and three, but ultimately the second-ranked Battlin’ Bears won 25-13, 24-26, 26-24, 25-18, ending the Saints’ season in the conference semifinals on Saturday at the Carroll PE Center.
Rocky controlled the first and fourth sets of the semifinal match against Carroll, but drama-filled second and third sets defined the match, as the Saints rallied to win the second and fell just shy in the third.
“I’m so proud of the way they played,” Boyle said. In four sets, I’m sure, that the numbers on the stats sheets are a record in some way for the number of attempts and digs in a four-set match. It’s incredible. I really believe it was high-level volleyball on both sides. There was some moments of amazing digs and amazing kills and then it would end one way or another.”
Rocky had 222 total attempts on attack, while Carroll had 225. The Battlin’ Bears recorded 147 digs and Carroll had 139. Beyond the stats, the Saints and Battlin’ Bears were pretty evenly matched.
Carroll tried to find traction with its hitting against Rocky Mountain, but the Saints accuracy took a while to straighten out in the first set and the misfires boosted Rocky to a 9-6 lead. When the Saints did find the mark, Rocky came up with big digs to deny the Saints, extending their lead to 15-9. Rocky kept their fire going in the first set, giving the Saints no chance to rally. Hailey Copinga gave the Battlin’ Bears plenty of kills to work with in the first game as Rocky took the first game 25-13.
Brielle Bumgarner gave the Saints come consistency in the front row, but the Battlin’ Bears kept up the pressure in the second set, building a 10-5 lead. Carroll fought back as Holly Morehosue came online with her hitting. Suddenly, the long rallies that weren’t falling the Saints’ way in the first set started to. Casey McInerney finished a long rally with a tip and Carroll drew within a few points. A bad set and a tough break from a net serve put the Saints in a three-point deficit late in the game though, 21-17. Saints miscues put them in a do-or-die situation, down 24-21 as Casey Berry served. Berry and the Saints found two points and forced a Rocky Mountain timeout.
A Rocky returner gambled and thought Berry’s serve would land out of bounds. It didn’t. Berry served a game-tying ace. Berry’s next serve was returned by Rocky, but the Battlin' Bears fired it out of play. Berry served another stellar ball and Rocky couldn’t transition it into a strong shot.
Carroll did. Morehouse, set up by Rayna Pilgeram, smashed a game-winner and the Saints rallied and won the second set.
“I’m honestly just so proud,” Morehouse said. “Each game, each set, was such a battle. It was so fun to play. Our team came together. There were definitely low spots. We all came together and I’m just super proud of the way we played. We came out fighting. We finished fighting. I’m super proud of it.”
In set three, the Saints started to control the net with a series of blocks, but Rocky quickly reestablished control as the Battlin' Bears built a 6-3 lead. Carroll, once again, came back. A pair of net violations by the Bears helped. A massive rally ended when Taelyr Krantz blasted a kill that deflected and fell to the court it give the Saints a two-point lead. Carroll's blocking came back in the middle of the set, helping the Saints hold a three-point lead, 15-12. Rocky came back to tie it at 16-16 and then built a 23-17 lead.
Carroll went on an eight-point run, and looked like it would come back again after a block by Mallory Arbizzani gave the Saints a 24-23 lead.
But Rocky's Natalie Hilderman set up two kills for Matheny and the Bears regained control, ending the set on a kill by Olivia L’Ami.
The fourth set was all Rocky, as the Battlin’ Bears cruised to a 25-18 win.
It became the Carroll seniors last moment in the PE Center. Seniors Catherine Sloan, McInerney, Morehouse, Arbizzani and Marija Nicksic all gave Saints fans a final showing of passion and grit. The team retreated to their locker room after the game, and spent some extra time with each other -- one last time.
“I’m proud of them,” Boyle said. “When you spend that long in a program and you give it your all in a program and you come to practice every day and you give that, it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to say goodbye to that. They’ve given back a lot to the program a lot already. I’m sure we’ll be talking about them.”
Morehouse, as others did, emerged from the locker room greeted by a horde of kids, some the children of coaches, others of family friends. Morehouse said the seniors swapped memories for a few beats after the loss and talked “about all the things we’re going to miss and the things we were thank for, and how much we love on another.”
The Saints finished the season (16-13). It was a season of soul-searching for the Saints. Fittingly, it was a 3-0 sweep courtesy of Rocky that prompted the Saints to go on a six-game winning streak and discover a higher level of play. The Saints ended the regular season with a loss to Rocky.
No. 1 Montana Tech defeated Rocky in five sets in the championship match Saturday night, 25-18, 18-25, 28-26, 25-23, 15-11. The Orediggers receive an automatic bid to the 2017 NAIA national tournament beginning Nov. 18.
Earlier Saturday, Tech defeated the University of Providence in four sets in the other semifinal, 25-23, 25-15, 18-25, 25-11.