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2018 Frontier Volleyball Preview: Plenty of challengers for the 2018 Frontier championship

 

September 12, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Shania Neubauer, right, tips a ball during a 2017 Frontier Conference match against Montana Tech in Havre. The Orediggers are the defending Frontier champions and the favorite to repeat as the 2018 Frontier volleyball season begins this weekend. The Skylights open Frontier play at home with matches against Lewis-Clark State Friday night and the Orediggers Saturday night inside the Armory Gymnasium.

NAIA volleyball is a month old now, but the real fun is just beginning.

This weekend, the Frontier Conference kicks off its annual race to November, and it's sure to be an exciting one.

Montana Tech was picked to repeat as Frontier champions this season, and the Orediggers are certainly loaded. But in what is a season that will show plenty of parity, Tech has challengers in the form of Rocky Mountain College, Carroll College, Lewis-Clark State and the University of Providence. In other words, the Frontier isn't a one-team show this season. No, any of those five teams could win the Frontier title.

Of course, with a 12-match schedule spread out over two months, it's going to be interesting how it all plays out. And it will be interesting to see who is left standing when the Frontier Tournament comes to an end Nov. 9-10 in Butte

Here's a look at all seven Frontier volleyball teams in the order they were picked in the 2018 Frontier Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll.

Montana Tech

Orediggers

2018: 8-6 Overall

2017: 24-10, 10-2, Frontier Champion

Head Coach: Brian Solomon

OUTLOOK: The Orediggers were a national tournament team a year ago and are heavy favorites to do it again this season. Tech was picked to win the Frontier title because of the return of the likes of Masha Korol (OH 6-2) and Karina Mickelson (OH 6-0), who already have over 400 kills between them this season. Kamaile Moody (DS 5-7) is also a top-notch DS, while the Orediggers have an imposing presence at the net, which includes Heather Thompson (OH 5-11), and defensively, they're anchored by star libero Sabrina Hopcroft (L 5-7) in the back row. Tech is traditionally a strong defensive team, but the Diggers' offensive firepower, and added height at the net has now vaulted them from being just a scrappy defensive and serving team, to a true powerhouse on both sides of the net.

Rocky Mountain

Battlin' Bears

2018: 11-1 Overall

2017: 23-11, 9-3, 2nd in Frontier

Head Coach: Laurie Kelly

OUTLOOK: Rocky has long been the standard in the Frontier Conference, and after a sizzling start to 2018, it appears nothing has changed. The Bears are once again loaded with talent, and height, and are looking to get back to the national tournament with it. Returning All-Conference stars Olivia Li'Ami (MB 5-9) and Daniella Russell (OH 5-9) fuel Rocky's attack offensively, while Hailey Copinga is a standout in the middle. Natalie Hilderman (S 6-0) is the catalyst offensively at the setter position, while Natalie Bad Bear (MB 6-0) and Maranda Koch (5-11 OH) only add to Rocky's outstanding size and blocking at the net. While the Bears were picked second in the Frontier this season, they have all the makings of a team that can, and very well might, win the Frontier title.

Carroll College

Fighting Saints

2018: 12-6 Overall

2017: 16-13, 8-4, 3rd in Frontier

Head Coach: Moe Boyle

OUTLOOK: Carroll had a strong showing in the Frontier last season but fell short of the conference title. Still, the Fighting Saints are a volleyball power each and every season and 2018 will be no different. Returning All-Conference hitters Brielle Bumgarner (MH 6-1) and Rayna Pilegram (S 6-0) lead a charged-up offense for Carroll, with Pilegram doing the setting, but the Saints are tall and tough defensively, too. Lexi Mikkelsen (OH 6-2) and Aliyah Williams (S 6-1) are tough on the block and Alya Carpenter (OH 5-9) anchors the back row. As always, Carroll has a deep rotation, too, and with Boyle being a veteran head coach, expect Carroll to once again be in the mix down the stretch.

Lewis-Clark State

Warriors

2018: 9-2 Overall

2017: 11-14, 5-7, 5th in Frontier

Head Coach: Shawn Pholman

OUTLOOK: It's been a while since the Warriors have truly contended for the Frontier crown. While always talented, LCSC has stumbled recently. That might change this fall. The Warriors are again talented, and it's showing in their preseason wins. Rachel Gregg (OH 6-0) has been outstanding offensively thus far, and she has help around her in the form of Aubrey King (RS 6-1) and Syndey Lawrence (MB 6-0). Lauren West (S 5-7) is an outstanding setter, and LCSC gets great blocking and defense from Alex Van Vleet (MH 6-0). The Warriors are traditionally very good in serve-receive, too, and with how well they're playing going into league play, they might just be the surprise team of 2018.

University of

Providence

Argos

2018: 8-4 Overall

2017: 20-11, 6-6, 4th in Frontier

Head Coach: Arunas Duda

OUTLOOK: Duda is one of the longest tenured coaches in the Frontier, and his Argos have won a lot of matches over that stretch. But they just seem to have trouble getting over the hump. Providence is never short on talent and depth, and the Argos won't be again this season. Kelsey Shaver (OH 5-10) and Syndey Andersen (RS 6-3) are two threats on offense, while Isabell Parker (OH 6-0) gives the Argos a strong force in the middle. Paige Jensen (S 5-9) might also be one of the top setters in the Frontier, and with her leading the way the Argos are once again a very dangerous offensive team. With so much firepower and depth, it stands to reason that the Argos will once again be a tough out for every team in the league.

MSU-Northern

Skylights

2018: 1-11 Overall

2017: 9-18, 3-9, 6th in Frontier

Head Coach: Rose Obunaga

OUTLOOK: The Skylights got off to a strong start in the Frontier in Obunaga's first season at the helm but struggled down the stretch. Northern lost a ton of key offensive firepower in Cassie Krueger and Timi Severson last season, and the Skylights are extremely young in 2018. Veteran Hannah Amtmann is one of the top liberos in the Frontier, and sophomore Katia Michelotti is becoming a presence in the middle. Setters Hailey Warren and Shania Neubauer also have experience, but on the attack the Skylights are relying on a lot of young, inexperienced players, like freshman Abigail Ellison, Jordan O'Connor and basketball-turned volleyball player Jessica Curl. So with so much youth in the rotation, 2018 is certainly going to be a building year for Northern.

UM-Western

Bulldogs

2018: 4-6 Overall

2017: 9-17, 1-11, 7th in Frontier

Head Coach: Brent Lewis

OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs have struggled to get out of the Frontier cellar for some time now. Though they've shown improvements in recent years, it's just been tough for them to hang with the top teams in the league, and it might be more of the same this season. All-Conference libero Dylan Fowler (5-5, L) is one of the top players in the conference, and Kelsey Potter (OH 5-8) and Kyra Palmer (RS 5-9) are strong up front, while Ellen Wolferman (MB 6-0) is an outstanding server. But the Bulldogs are thin on depth, and with so many strong teams in front of them, it's likely to be another tough season at Western.

 

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