By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team learned something on Wednesday night. The Skylights can finish teams off with a lead, even when they aren't playing perfectly.
Northern shook off a minor distraction from the opposing coach, a sloppy second game and plenty of unforced of errors in a 30-18, 21-30, 30-25, 30-9 victory over the University of Great Falls Argos the a packed MSU-Northern gymnasium.
The Skylights, who ran a "Pack the House" promotion, didn't disappoint the crowd of around 500 fans. Behind some huge blocks and some solid hitting, Northern improved its record to 3-7 in conference and 13-15 overall on the season and completed a regular season sweep of the Argos.
"I thought we played pretty well," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "We made a few too many unforced errors, but we were able to overcome them."
There weren't many errors early for the Skylights. In game one, Northern stormed to a 10-2 lead on a monster block from freshman Jeanna McPherson.
On the play, UGF head coach Dick Scott was upset with what he perceived to be a no call on McPherson being over the net and argued the call. Scott received a yellow card for his argument which only incensed him more. After an off-color remark about the yellow card, Scott was given a red card and ejected from the game.
"I never heard what he said," Handley said. "I didn't even know what happened."
What often happens when a coach is ejected is his team adapts an "us against the world" mentality. UGF was no different, with assistant coach Michelle Peterson running the team, the Argos fought their way back into the game.
A tip-kill by setter Ashley Zerr-Smith and a kill from Stephanie Smith brought UGF within four at 14-9. But after watching leads slip away a week ago to Montana Tech, the Skylights would have none that.
Kills from Lindsay Garcia and Tanja Bruski pushed the Skylights lead back to six. Northern capitalized on several Argo mistakes while a pair of aces from Bruski and three kills from Philips closed out the game at 30-18.
As has been the trend all season, the Skylights have struggled in the second game, following game one victories. It was no different Wednesday night. Northern came out in game two and played sloppily, committing unforced error after unforced error as UGF grabbed an 18-8 lead.
"We committed 11 unforced errors of the first 12 points," Handley said. "We simply can't have those type of mistakes and expect to have any success."
Despite the mistakes, the Skylights still managed to keep themselves in game two behind McPherson, who had two kills and two blocks to pull Northern within nine at 26-17. But kills from Melanie Dochylos and Deidre Ranf ended game two, 30-21.
"When we start making mistakes, we kind of get down on ourselves," Garcia said. "But after losing a game like that, you play harder in the next game because it's kind of embarrassing, losing like that."
Garcia's theory proved right as Northern came out after the short intermission and played much crisper. A block from McPherson and a laser of a kill from Garcia put the Skylights up 14-10.
However, spurred on by its success in game two, UGF hung tough. A Kelly Thorpe block gave Northern a 5-point lead at 21-16, but it was short-lived as kills from Ranf, Jennifer Wright and Smith and a blown exchange from the Skylights tied the game at 21-21. The Argos took their first lead of the game on an Emmy Olson hitting error at 24-23.
Trying to cling some momentum, Handley inserted Tera O'Haire for Olson and the freshman responded. O'Haire rolled over a soft kill and another tip to push the lead to 27-24.
The number 27 has been considered unlucky for the Skylights this season. On countless occasions, Northern has lost games after getting to 27 including last week's game four loss to Tech in which Northern led 27-17.
However, there would be no curse in this game. A Phillips kill, a net serve from UGF and a McPherson-O'Haire combo block ended game three 30-25.
"We figured out how to pull it together and finish a team off," Garcia said. "Coach has been stressing finishing teams off for the past two weeks."
But the true finisher came in game four, as the Skylight annihilated UGF 30-9 to close out the match. Northern's Julie Henderson put on a serving clinic as the Skylights rattled off 17 straight points on her serving. Henderson mixed in a few aces while Garcia absolutely pounded the ball.
"Great Falls runs a high right block and I told Lindsay just to swing away," Handley said. "She really got going."
Garcia finished with 10 kills while Phillips finished with a match-high 13 kills.
"Mitsu hit a very smart game," Handley said. "She was very smart with her shots and really put the ball in the right spots."
McPherson had a solid match with three kills and five and half kills while Thorpe dished out 32 assists and picked up 16 digs. Henderson finished with 15 digs and a team-high four aces.
Great Falls, which dropped to 1-9 in the conference and 4-20 overall, was led by Mellany Dochylos with 10 kills and nine digs.
While the win didn't have a huge effect in terms of the conference standings, there was plenty that will come from it.
"It should definitely help with our confidence," Handley said. "It was a total team effort with everyone contributing."
Northern will have the remainder of the week and begin preparing for next weekend's matches at UM-Western and Westminster.
"This rest is really going to help us recovery-wise" Garcia said. "We've been going for 10 or 12 days straight and we're little banged up. We need to be ready to win two next weekend."
MSU-Northern def. University of Great Falls
30-18, 21-30, 30-25, 30-9
UGF - Kills 38 (Mellany Dochylos 10, Stephanie Smith 6), Assists 27 (Ashley Zerr-Smith 27), Aces 9 (Zerr-Smith 3, Smith 3), Digs 54 (Denise McLain 17, Jaclyn Bird 10), Blocks 3 (Deidre Ranf 1).
MSUN - Kills 40 (Mitsu Phillips 13, Lindsay Garcia 10), Assists 36 (Kelly Thorpe 32), Aces 8 (Julie Henderson 4), Digs 85 (Kelly Thorpe 15, Henderson 15), Blocks 14 (Jeanna McPherson 5).