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Kristin Barott and Esther Timofeyev of Rocky Mountain College attempt to block a shot by Kailah Nettle of Saint Martin’s University last September.

After all of their spikes, digs and victories this fall, the women’s volleyball team at Rocky Mountain College is deserving of a final salute.

Especially the Battlin’ Bears’ six seniors, who helped lead Rocky to 30 victories, its highest national ranking in program history and best finish ever at the NAIA tournament in Sioux City, Iowa.

Kristin Barott, Jillian Bates, Sara Brunner, Jillian Stanek, Ashley Welborn and Brittany Hodgson all contributed to Rocky’s agility and aggressiveness out on the court in making the Bears one of the area’s sporting spectacles in 2011.

Long before that, though, they began collectively accumulating career numbers we may not see for a while.

Setter Barott, with her 4,195 career assists and 1,044 digs, and outside hitter Brunner, with 1,175 kills and 1,316 digs, led the way for what is likely one of Rocky’s most prolific classes ever.

Altogether the six seniors were responsible for a sensational 3,589 kills, 4,438 assists, 3,562 digs, 993 total blocks and 434 ace serves over the past four seasons.

Not to mention 94 wins — along with the school’s first Frontier Conference tournament title since 2000 and two appearances at nationals.

Their captivating four-year stretch culminated this fall with a 30-5 season record, a No. 7 national ranking (out of 236 schools) and a clean sweep in pool play en route to a spot in the single-elimination, 12-team championship bracket at the 24-team NAIA tournament.

Quite a sendoff, indeed.

However, in biding farewell to her seniors, fifth-year coach Laurie Kelly, who won her 100th match at Rocky this fall and 600th of her 26-year career, hasn’t been left shorthanded for 2012.

She has Jamie Ellenbaas, Esther Timofeyev, Michaela Hale, Bethany Moullet and Anna Dewald, all contributors to last season’s success, returning for another year or two.

Kelly’s roster also included a mixture of six freshmen and two sophomores, who sharpened their skills throughout the fall by going up against the veterans in practice and playing in JV matches.

On top of that, Kelly has signed some prized recruits in Billings West’s Kylie Nielsen, Skyview’s Mariah Stiffarm and Bozeman’s Ahlea Billis for the coming season.

So, by applauding the seniors one last time, and marveling over their accomplishments, all signs also point to Rocky volleyball continuing to be a top sports story locally in 2012 and beyond.

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