By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team got a much needed win this past weekend with a convincing 30-22, 30-24, 30-27 decision over the Westminster College Griffins in Salt Lake City.
But the Skylights almost missed the match entirely. A scheduling mix-up in the Westminster athletic department had moved the match time up to 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m.
"At about five to 5,I got a call telling us we played at 5 o'clock," said head coach Lisa Handley. "We hurried up and got over to the gym and the match started at about 10 after 6."
Because of the rushed format, Northern, which was already missing senior Mitsu Phillips because of injury, was also without senior Tanja Bruski, who was with family and was late getting to the rescheduled match.
With Northern featuring a very young lineup on the floor in the first game, Westminster stormed to a 10-point lead. However, the Skylights rallied back to take the game 30-22.
"We were down 10 points before I think we even got warmed up," Handley said. "But I was really proud of them for battling back. Even with a lot of nonstarters in the game, they still fought back."
Northern carried that momentum to take games two and three quite handily.
"We really played with good ball control," Handley said. "Their gym has a really low ceiling, so you have cannot afford to mess up on serve-receive."
Northern was led by a balanced attack with senior Emmy Olson notching a team-high eight kills. Freshman Brandi Snell and seven kills and 11 digs while fellow freshman Jeanna McPherson had eight blocks, two aces and two kills.
"Jeanna had a huge night blocking for us," Handley said. "Everybody got to see a lot of court time and it gave our younger girls a lot of confidence."
The win helped ease a tough 30-25, 23-30, 17-30, 30-25 loss to UM-Western on Thursday in Dillon. Northern braved the icy, winter roads on game day and the long road trip took its toll on the players.
"It took us over seven hours to get there and it was pretty scary at times," Handley said. "We basically pulled up to the gym, got out and had to start playing. We were a step slow in that first game; we played hard just to keep it respectable and save face."
Despite picking up a win in game two, Northern's offense never quite got going in the match. Phillips tried to play through a sore shoulder, but she simply couldn't hit the ball as hard.
"Mitsu tried to play hurt," Handley said. "She tipped the ball a lot and wasn't swinging much. We probably should have kept her out, but she really wanted to play."
However, Western also hurt Northern's offense by slowing down its outside hitters.
"Our middles were connecting but our outsides weren't," Handley said. "You can't win a volleyball game without production from your outsides."
Western got 16 kills from Kasey Smith and 15 kills and eight blocks from Katharine Sunwall in the win.
"Katharine was amazing," Handley said. "She was hitting the ball well and hitting around our blocks and we weren't disciplined enough on defense to stay at home."
Northern was led by Lindsay Garcia with eight kills and 13 digs,while Bruski had seven kills, four blocks and a pair of aces.
The Skylights, who sit in sixth place in the Frontier Conference with a 4-8 record, return home for their final home matches of the season this weekend when they host Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College.
UM-Western def. MSU-Northern
30-25, 23-30, 17-30, 30-25
MSU-Northern - Kills 44 (Lindsay Garcia 8), Assists 40 (Kelly Thorpe 29), Aces 8 (Tanja Bruski 3), Digs 82 (Nicole Kruse 17, Garcia 13), Blocks 8 (Bruski 4 ).
UM-Western - Kills 26 (Kasey Smith 16, Katharine Sunwall 15), Assists 53 (Lindsey Scott 25, Emily Smith 24), Aces 10 (E. Smith 3), Digs 69 (Kendall Bradley 18, E. Smith 13), Blocks 13 (Sunwall 8).
MSU-Northern def. Westminster College
30-22, 30-24, 30-27
MSU-Northern - Kills 34 (Emmy Olson 8, Brandi Snell 7), Assists 31 (Thorpe 22), Aces 5 (Julie Henderson 2, Jeanna McPherson 2), Digs 70 (Kruse 19, Snell 11, Thorpe 11), Blocks 10 (McPherson 8).
Westminster - no stats available