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Montana Tech All-American Caleb Bellach set to return from injury

Posted at 6:42 PM, Nov 30, 2023

BUTTE — Montana Tech's men's basketball team has had Dec. 1 marked on its calendar for a while.

Nearly nine months after star forward Caleb Bellach went down with a season-ending left knee injury in the opening minutes of Tech's first-round national tournament game against Westmont College on March 7, the reigning Frontier Conference MVP and All-American is set to make his return.

"We've had this date circled since the summertime," said head coach Adam Hiatt. "We've just been working toward this opening day for him. We just wanted to be cautious, make sure he was 100 percent ready to compete at a high physical level."

Now a senior, Bellach, who was Tech's highest-scoring player last season with 545 points, will play limited minutes on Friday as No. 8 Tech (6-1) hosts Concordia University of Edmonton to kick off a slate of seven December games to wrap up non-conference play. Tech will travel to Missoula to face the Montana Grizzlies on Dec. 8.

For Bellach, the same drive and competitive spirit that helped him have an instant impact with the Orediggers after transferring from Montana State in 2021 helped push him through surgery and then months of physical therapy and training. He's ahead of schedule in his recovery and while his playing time will be capped in these upcoming non-conference games, the plan is for him to be a full go by the time Frontier Conference play rolls around in January. He averaged over 30 minutes a game last season.

"Obviously I've been waiting a long time for this," Bellach said at a practice on Wednesday. "My rehab process has gone really well. My doctor, trainer and coach Hiatt think I'm ready to go and so do I. I'm excited to get back out there on Friday and see what I can do."

The knee injury that occurred during an awkward fall on Tech's first possession against Westmont back in March happened in an instant, but Bellach can still vividly recall every moment.

"My foot got caught right when I went to pump fake," he said. "I could feel my knee push out and then I fell on top of it. And I felt it happen right away."

A season-ending injury is devastating for any athlete, but it was especially gut-wrenching for Bellach considering the circumstances — it was the opening minute of Tech's first-ever home national tournament game and his squad, fresh off consecutive Frontier Conference championships, was dreaming of winning it all.

Suddenly without one of their top weapons, the Orediggers rallied and dug in, beating Westmont and then holding off Thomas More in overtime before heading to the final site in Kansas City, where Tech's run eventually ended in the Round of 8 against Ottawa University of Arizona.

"Just got to be supportive of my teammates," said Bellach. "They made the most of every opportunity, and I'm super proud of the way they responded."

The Orediggers were picked to win the Frontier Conference again in the preseason poll and, with Bellach now set to be eased back into the rotation, a three-peat seems to be a reasonable goal.

"That's a big deal," said Bellach. "We got two (banners) hanging up there, we want to get one more."

"We were a little clunky in these first seven games," said Hiatt. "We're trying to figure out our rotation, but now that we have a complete roster we feel like our rotations throughout the year are going to be a lot more seamless."

Tech and Concordia tip off at the HPER Complex at 5 p.m. Friday. The Oredigger women (3-2) will play before at 3 p.m.