By Ryan Divish
It wasn't the reaction that Montana State University-Northern volleyball coach Lisa Handley was looking for from her team. After picking up a pair of key victories a week ago, the Skylights dropped a pair of road matches to wind up the Frontier Conference regular season.
Carroll College defeated Northern 30-19, 30-20 and 30-20 in Helena to pull into a first-place tie with UM-Western atop the Frontier.
The Saints got a solid performance from Mary Lester, who finished with a match-high 17 kills.
"That was probably the most consistent game I've seen Mary Lester play," Handley said. "She hit around our blocks and we couldn't dig them up."
The Skylights reverted to some of their old bad habits during the match.
"Our serve-receive was terrible," Handley said. "Carroll just seems to get in their heads. I could tell even in pregame warmups that they weren't talking and excited."
Northern shook off Friday's uninspired performance to play better Saturday against Rocky Mountain College in Billings.
However, it was senior night for the Bears and they played like it, dropping the Skylights 30-26, 30-23 and 30-26.
"They have four seniors and they played like it was their last home game," Handley said. "We didn't play poorly; they just played better. Any of those games could have gone either way. We had some things and some calls go against us at critical moments. It was one of those nights where nothing worked in our favor."
Rocky got 11 kills from senior Libby Torma, while teammate Tess Morrison chipped in with 35 assists and 11 digs.
Tamecia Watkins led Northern with 12 kills and two aces. Hannah Nutting, a Billings native, returned home to dish out 28 assists and pick up 11 digs.
With the win, Rocky finished 9-5 in the Frontier Conference, good for third place. The Bears will face Northern, which finished 3-11 in the conference, in the first round of this weekend's Frontier Conference tournament in Butte.
"We knew going into the match that we were going to play Rocky in the tournament so we experimented a little," Handley said. "It gave us a chance to see what kind of lineup we will use against them and what things work."
The Frontier Conference tournament begins Thursday in Butte and will be held at Montana Tech's HPER complex. The time for Northern's game has not been announced.