By Ryan Divish
Call it a gut check, call it a long look in the mirror or an attitude adjustment. Call it whatever you want, but the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team was in desperate need of something.
Following a disappointing and lackluster three game loss to the University of Great Falls last Wednesday, the Skylights hit rock bottom. It was their seventh consecutive loss, dropping their record to 9-18 overall and 1-9 in conference. Even more disappointing for head coach Lisa Handley was her team's play. It was uninspired to say the least. After the match, Handley gave her team a few days off to refresh and reassess their situation.
"I gave them that time to reexamine their priorities and to really decide if they want to win," Handley said. "I basically told them if they weren't ready to play the way they can, then don't come back on Monday."
Fortunately, every player returned Monday and the break has seemed to help.
"I think it refreshed them," Handley said. "The practices have been great this week. They've been intense and positive."
Said junior captain Tanja Bruski: "We all felt so much more refreshed. It gave us time to reassess if we really loved the game and kind of reflect on what we wanted out of this."
Besides the break, following Monday's practice the players held a meeting to discuss their difficulties and frustrations.
"We discussed all of our problems that we were having," Bruski said. "We basically cleared the air and talked about having the desire to win and playing with confidence."
It's something that has plagued the Skylights this season. The talent is there, but the confidence and swagger of a winning team isn't. But confidence is something that can be gained quickly and for Handley and her team, no time is better than now.
The refreshed Skylights will host a pair of conference matches this weekend at the MSU-Northern gymnasium beginning with Westminster College on Friday and followed by UM-Western on Saturday.
With only four matches remaining before the Frontier Conference tournament, Northern needs to start playing well to build some momentum and confidence.
"It's a gut check right now," Handley said. "It's time to start playing like we did in the preseason tournaments. Nobody here has seen us play like I have seen us play."
In a perfect world, tonight would be that night. Handley and her Skylights host a Westminster team that is certainly beatable. Westminster is 5-18 on the season and 2-9 in the conference. However, one of those wins did come against Northern in Salt Lake City about a month ago. But Northern also gave Westminster one of its losses as well The Skylights smoked the Griffins in three games at the UM-Western tournament earlier this season.
"We watched film from the last game," Handley said. "There's a lot of things they do we can take advantage of."
Handley wasn't about to give away her game plan, but Westminster's strengths our definitely their size and blocking ability. Liz Thompson and Jackie Ottenstien are both well over 6-feet tall. In Northern's loss to Westminster the duo caused a wealth of problems with their blocking.
"They have two very tall girls," Bruski said. "They're trees and they block well. They also played scrappier than we did."
It's something that should happen this time. The Skylights are well passed the point of wanting to win. They are now at must win.
"We need to beat them," Bruski said. "We need to get a win. I feel good about our team and I think we are going to be ready."
The necessity of a win on Friday may be amplified because of who the Skylights play on Saturday. Conference leader UM-Western will bring its shiny 10-1 conference record to the MSU-Gymnasium.
The Bulldogs are a solid all-around team with a veteran leader in Katie Stokes. Northern has lost to Western times this season. But the Skylights played competitively.
Handley knows her team will have to play one of its best matches of the season to win. However, she still hasn't seen that match yet this season and hopes that it will happen this weekend. She also hopes that Havre fans will see it as well.
"The easiest thing for people to do would be give up on this team," Handley said. "But they haven't given up and I haven't given up either."
Friday night's match against Westminster gets under way at 7 p.m. following the men's basketball game against Dickinson State. It will be parents night for the Skylights with the parents and adopt-a-parents being honored. Saturday's match will also be at 7 p.m. and it will also be senior night. The team's lone senior Tamecia Watkins will be honored before the match.