By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Playing on the road in the Frontier Conference is never easy. Playing without your two best passers and the rest of your team beset by the flu can be almost impossible.
The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team tried to tackle the impossible this weekend. However, a gutsy and undermanned Skylight squad lost its opening matches of the Frontier Conference schedule.
Friday night, Northern opened with conference favorite Montana Tech in Butte. But the Skylights' reception in the Mining City was an unfriendly one as the Orediggers picked up a 30-18, 30-17, 30-28 win.
"It was kind of rough," said head coach Lisa Handley. "We were missing Emmy Olson and Brandi Snell because of the flu. They are two of our best passers."
Not having your best passers against a Tech team that makes its living on tough serving is a recipe for some trouble.
The trouble started early with Northern trying to adjust to a different lineup on the fly.
"Because it was new, they kind of played tentatively," Handley said. "And it showed in our serve-receive game."
Tech cruised to a pair of wins in games one and two, but Northern had a better game three, playing them down to the very end.
"It took us until game three to finally get comfortable," Handley said. "Once we did, we played tough."
Lindsay Garcia led Northern with eight kills and 11 digs while Kelly Thorpe dished out 16 assists and had 14 digs.
"Lindsay had a great game," Handley said. "If we didn't have our serve-receive problems, the match is much closer."
On Saturday, Northern wasn't much healthier, but played much tougher in a 30-13, 28-30, 30-21, 30-20 loss to Lewis-Clark State.
"It was much closer than the scored showed," Handley said. "After the first-game nerves, we won game two. But in the last games they had a jump-server who rattled off four or five points."
Lindsey Iroume had seven aces in the match and also didn't allow the Skylights to get into their offense. Still, Northern fought in each match despite the LC serving and its own hitting woes, largely on the strength of its blocking. The Skylights had 11 team blocks in the match, which kept them in it.
"We had tremendous blocking," Handley said. "Tanja Bruski was tough and Jeanna McPherson came alive in the match. She really started reading the setter."
Bruski and McPherson combined for 8 kills in the match while Mitsu Phillips had a game-high 15 kills. Garcia added 11 kills and Thorpe notched 23 assists.
While the losses were disappointing, Handley found plenty to be pleased with, including the play of her younger players like McPherson.
"I looked out at the team we had on the floor and there were five freshmen out there and they were playing right with LC," she said.
Handley was also pleased with her team's attitude.
"In the past, when we would get beat handily on the first night, it would show the next night," Handley said. "These girls came out more fired up on Saturday and played harder."
Northern will return to action on Wednesday when the team travels to Great Falls to take on the University of Great Falls in Frontier Conference volleyball action.
Montana Tech def. MSU-Northern
30-18, 30-17, 30-28
TECH - Kills 35 (Marrin Audet 9, Janalee Stokken 8, Collette Phillips 8), Assists 31 (Becky Hancock 23), Aces 11 (Kesley Jensen 4), Digs 46 (Hancock 12, Beka Hudson 8), Blocks 1.
MSUN - Kills 24 (Lindsay Garcia 8, Tanja Bruski 7), Assists 20 (Kelly Thorpe 16), Aces 5 (Bruski 2), Digs 49 (Thorpe 14, Garcia 11), Blocks 1.
Lewis-Clark State def. MSU-Northern
30-13, 28-30, 30-21, 30-20
LCSC - Kills 50 (Kim Condor 11, Lindsay Iroume 11), Assists 42 (Anna Johnson 39), Aces 17 (Iroume 7), Digs 45 (Condor 15), Blocks 5 (three tied with 2).
MSUN - Kills 38 (Mitsu Phillips 15, Garcia 11), Assists 30 (Thorpe 23), Aces 1 (Thorpe 1), Digs 43 (Nicole Kruse 8), Blocks 11 (Bruski 6, McPherson 2.5).