BUTTE — To truly understand the story of this year's Montana Tech men's basketball team — a squad that was populated with new faces and new starters — you have to go back to the night of March 12, 2022, down in Waxahachie, Texas, a city on the southern outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
A day after winning their first ever NAIA national tournament game, the Orediggers saw their season — and the careers of six seniors who had been instrumental in transforming Tech's program into Frontier Conference champions — come to an abrupt end against Southern Assemblies of God University.
"I remember last year vividly when we were eliminated from the national tournament down in Texas," said Tech head coach Adam Hiatt. "The finality of that group of seniors. We had six guys that had been with us from almost the very beginning of our ascension in the Frontier.
"It was an emotional night. But then we quickly turned the page and we had our sights set on this particular season."
Tech turned that page and went on to write a chapter that saw the Orediggers author one of the most successful seasons in program history. On the way to claiming a second straight Frontier Conference regular season title, Tech earned a No. 10 ranking in the NAIA coaches' poll, it's highest ranking ever.
2022-23 Season— Montana Tech Basketball ⚒️ (@MTechHoops) March 15, 2023
🏀 29-5 record (best in school history)
🏆 Frontier Conference Regular Season Champs
🏆 Frontier Tournament Champs
🏆 NAIA Opening Rounds Champs
⚒️ National Quarterfinals
💚 Beyond Proud #RollDiggs I #TeamTogetherForever
Then the Orediggers headed to Great Falls where they defended their tournament title, winning consecutive conference titles for the first time since the Kelvin Sampson era.
Still not done, Tech returned home where it hosted first and second round national tournament games, a program first. And despite Frontier Conference Player of the Year and eventual First Team All-American Caleb Bellach going down in the first minute of the first game, the Orediggers gutted out a pair of wins to lock up a trip to the final site in Kansas City where Tech delivered an overtime upset win over top-seeded William Penn in the Round of 16.
The magic eventually ended in the quarterfinals against Ottawa University. But, considering all of the questions that Tech had heading into this campaign, Hiatt was beyond satisfied with how his team answered.
"We had four new starters, a lot of guys playing new roles," Hiatt said. "We weren't exactly certain how quickly we be able to connect, and this group really connected rapidly.
"We had a lot of versatile parts that created mismatches for the other team on the offensive side and the defensive side."
In Hiatt's first season as Montana Tech's head coach, the Orediggers won a single conference game. But he continued to instill belief in the program and the result was steady progress over the next years, culminating in Tech now looking ahead to next season where they'll be looking to three-peat as conference champions and build off their deepest postseason run in program history.
"The bar continues to be set higher and higher. It's gonna be interesting to see how far we can go. But the ceiling continues to change. I felt like three or four years ago the ceiling was I felt like we could win a conference championship, and we accomplished that. And now the ceiling has kind of gone up a little bit and we feel like we can really contend for a national championship."