Rocky Mountain College volleyball coach Laurie Kelly began the week anxiously awaiting the birth of her second granddaughter Gabrielle. She hopes to end it with her Battlin' Bears winning the Frontier Conference tournament championship in Great Falls.
"I think our kids have as great a chance as any," she said. "They're ready to go. This has to be your best weekend."
Rocky, 21-6 overall and seeded second in the nine-team tournament, will open Friday evening with a quarterfinal match against host and seventh-seeded University of Great Falls, which is 9-21 overall.
The young Bears, who do not have a senior on their roster, beat the Argos in five and four sets during the regular season.
"We have that going for us," Kelly said. "Our kids know how to win. They compete hard."
The winner of the two-day tournament will receive an automatic berth to the NAIA championship playoffs. The Frontier semifinals and finals will take place on Saturday.
"Everybody will be playing their best volleyball and that's how it should be," said Kelly, whose team has lost to three nationally ranked teams this season.
"We're healthy. We have a great attitude. We've had a lot of fun this year. At no point do they want the season to be over."
Top-seeded Montana State Northern, 24-5 and ranked 24th nationally, is the favorite after taking second to Carroll College at last year's Frontier tournament.
"They have five great seniors," Kelly said of the Skylights, who have beaten the Bears twice. "Those kids have worked hard. When you've got five seniors on the court, their backs are against the wall. This is it for them, and they play like it.
"They play tough. They're a nice team."
Kelly said her Bears, who are near the top of the schools receiving votes in the national poll, will have to win the tournament to get to nationals.
"There's just not enough at-large bids," she said of the 36-school field. "It is a shame because we have two or three teams in our conference that are very tough."
Rocky has won 12 of its last 15 matches -- and feature the NAIA's top blocking lineup.
Junior middle hitters Yang Yang (336 kills) and Anna Dewald (268 kills) have also been Rocky's main offensive threats at the net, but they have been getting double- and triple-teamed a lot lately, Kelly said.
That means Ahlea Billis, Kylie Nielsen, BrieAnna Geck and Elli Hellerud will be counted on for firepower from the outside. Billis has 228 kills.
"Last weekend our outside hitters really stepped up again," Kelly said. "We've got to count on them to get some big kills for us."
Rocky last won the Frontier tournament title in 2011.
NOTES: Gabrielle Leigh Gregorak, who arrived at 12:15 a.m. on Thursday in Missoula weighing 8-pounds, 12-ounces, is the first child of Kelly's daughter, Kandice, who is the assistant women's volleyball coach at the University of Montana. Her husband is Ty Gregorak, who is the defensive coordinator with the Grizzlies.