BUTTE — The Montana Tech men's basketball team's 2022-23 campaign was, by multiple metrics, its most successful season in program history.
To summarize: The Orediggers emerged as Frontier Conference regular-season and tournament champions for the second straight year, then for the first time ever hosted national tournament first and second round games.
Tech won both games and then headed to the final site in Kansas City — another program first a year after qualifying for the tournament for the first time ever — where the Orediggers upended top seed William Penn in the Round of 16 before seeing its unprecedented run come to an end in the Round of 8 against Ottawa University (Ariz.)
Oh, and Tech's No. 10 ranking in the final regular-season poll and 29 total victories were also program bests.
That 2022-23 team reached heights Tech had never seen before, but coach Adam Hiatt recognizes that the Orediggers upcoming season, which begins with is first preseason game at home against Portland Bible College on Friday at 7 p.m., will see them start from the bottom. But they certainly won't be flying under the radar, especially after earning a No. 6 ranking in the preseason NAIA poll and being picked to three-peat as Frontier Conference champions.
"What happened last year happened. It's a whole new journey, a whole new challenge ahead of this year," said Hiatt. "Especially when we've got a roster that's not complete right now. We've got some guys that are battling through injuries, coming back from rehab."
Among those players is reigning Frontier Conference MVP Caleb Bellach, who is in the process of recovering from a torn ACL and meniscus that brought his junior season to an abrubt end in the opening minutes of Tech's national tournament first-round win over Westmont College.
The plan is for Bellach — Tech's top scorer last season and a first-team All-American selection — to be ready to roll when conference play arrives in January. But Hiatt said he's being mindful to ease his star player back into the lineup.
"We have to be his firewall, to be honest," said Hiatt. "He's so committed to getting back on the floor and he's worked so extremely hard this entire offseason. He wants to be out there and he wants to do everything that everyone's doing but we have to ramp him up at an appropriate pace."
The Orediggers are also set to return the entirety of their starting lineup including three forwards — 6-foot-6 sophomore Hayden Diekhans, 6-5 junior Michael Ure, and 6-6 senior Asa Williams — who all eclipsed 300 points last season.
Williams was Tech's second leading scorer last season with 448 points and 13.6 points per game average. And he knows that the Orediggers' 14 preseason contests — including a Dec. 8 matchup against Division I Montana — will be critical as his team looks toward January.
"Just coming in every day and working," Williams said. "It's a new day, (a) new year. We play in a great Frontier Conference. A lot of great teams and a lot of great players. You have to go in everyday and play your best basketball."
Said Hiatt: "We have a tremendous non-conference schedule ahead of us just for the simple fact that we understand what's at stake once we get to January with the gauntlet that's the Frontier Conference schedule. We need to be battle-tested."