By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
There isn't as much a dislike between the Montana State University-Northern and University of Great Falls volleyball teams. Rather it's a general dislike of losing to the other.
The Skylights and Argos renew their Frontier Conference rivalry tonight when they hook up at the McLaughlin Center in Great Falls at 7 p.m.
Both teams are 0-2 in conference play after each losing to Montana Tech and Lewis-Clark State last weekend. With both teams searching for that elusive conference win, tonight's action should be even more intense - if that's possible.
"I don't really have to say much to motivate them this week," said head coach Lisa Handley. "We know they're out to get us as well."
There shouldn't be any lack of motivation for either team.
Great Falls already suffered a 14-30, 30-25, 22-30, 30-26, 15-12, loss to Northern earlier this season at the Rocky Mountain College Tournament. UGF coach Dick Scott was none to pleased with his team's play, according to Handley.
"When we beat them at Rocky, they got chewed out pretty bad," Handley said. "They certainly don't want that to happen again."
But it isn't just Scott who believes that the Argos are better than the Skylights. The UGF players believe it as well and haven't been afraid to let Northern players know it. It started last fall, continued during spring practice and is still alive today.
"There's always been a lot of talking on the court and off," Handley said. "But we can't let ourselves get caught up in the verbal aspects, and focus on what we have to do."
There is always a little woofin' and trash talkin' in any sport, but Handley wasn't exactly pleased how her team reacted in the first UGF match. Her young players, in particular, seemed to let it affect them negatively, rather than motivate them.
"It shouldn't bother us what they're saying," Handley said. "We need that attitude where it only makes us play harder and more aggressive. We have to be mentally tough and not allow them to get in your head."
Besides the talking, there should also be a little motivation for players from last year's team. The Skylights traveled to Great Falls last season and were defeated 29-31, 30-25, 18-30, 30-14, 15-11. It was one of just two matches UGF won last season.
"In reality we're pretty much equal to Great Falls," Handley said. "We both have a lot of young players and we also have plenty of weapons that are capable of going out and playing extremely well on any given night. But they're also capable of playing extremely poorly."
UGF brought in several solid newcomers this season that have blended well with the remaining players from last year's squad. Outside hitter Mellany Dochlyos and middle blocker Kristen Carter have infused the Argos with some size and athleticism.
Scott also brought in a new setter in Ashley Zerr-Smith to go along with last year's setter Jaclyn Bird. Another player that has helped the Argos has been former Havre High standout Jayla McPherson, who joined the volleyball team this season after competing the last two for the UGF basketball team.
"Their outside hitter (Dochylos) is a nice player," Handley said. "Jayla puts up a nice block. She's very competitive and doesn't like to lose, especially when her sister (Jeanna McPherson) is on the other side of the net.
UGF also returns solid players in Deidre Ranf and Stephanie Smith.
But who will be on the floor is a mystery to Handley. Scott has used a different starting lineup in just about every match in the preseason, so who he has on the floor tonight is anyone's guess.
"We really have no idea who he will play," Handley said. 'Regardless, they play pretty straight up without any gimmicks. I am not as concerned as much with what they're going to do, I'd rather focus on the things we need to do to win.
Those things are pretty simple: cut down on unforced errors, get some production from the middle and have everybody play well at once.
The unforced errors, especially service errors, are going to send Handley to an early examination for ulcers.
The Skylights have committed more service errors than any team she has had in the past and they seem to come at the most inopportune times. Against UGF in the first match, Northern committed just seven service errors, unlike several matches where that number is in the teens.
Up to this point in the season, the Skylights middle blockers have remained unusually quiet which Handley attributes to a number of reasons.
There is the adjustment of new setter Kelly Thorpe and there has also been some poor passing which makes it difficult to run the quick sets for Tanja Bruski, Tera O'Haire and Jeanna McPherson. But for Northern to be successful, that trend must change.
"We have to get our middles going," Handley said. "Tanja only had eight sets last week against LC. She's hitting around .310 and we need to set her enough so that teams still have to respect her. Right now, everyone is focusing on our outside hitters like Lindsay Garcia and Mitsu Phillips because that's all we ever set."
The first two keys Handley mentioned are all predicated on one idea - everyone must play well at once. In the preseason, Northern always had one or two players playing well in a given match, but never quite seemed to get everyone on the floor to be clicking at once.
"Everybody has to step up," Handley said. "It can't just be our outsides, or our back row or just our middles, it has to be everyone because I fully expect us to beat Great Falls. They just need to believe it themselves."