By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It wasn't the memories that Montana State University-Northern volleyball head coach wanted for her seniors in their last home matches of their career.
Although the trio of seniors turned in stellar performances, it wasn't enough, as the Skylights were swept in a pair of Frontier Conference matches by the Rocky Mountain College Battlin Bears and the Carroll College Fighting Saints this weekend at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
"Our seniors really stepped it up," Handley said. "But it takes more than them playing well to beat teams like Rocky and Carroll. It takes everybody on the floor playing well to beat good teams."
And Northern couldn't even put every one of its players on the floor. With outside hitter Lindsay Garcia in street clothes because of injured ankle, the Skylights were without one their biggest offensive weapons, facing perhaps two of the top defensive players in the conference.
"We definitely missed Lindsay this weekend," Handley said. "She's been our sparkplug at home and she really gets the crowd going with some of her kills."
Even shorthanded, Northern played Rocky tough. The Bears grabbed game one as they grabbed a 12-10 lead and never trailed. The duo of Laura Morrison and Katy Furlong notched seven kills in the final 10 points to secure the game 30-24.
The Skylights rallied in game two behind the play of its seniors. A Tanja Bruski kill knotted the game at 16 as Northern rallied from a four-point deficit. Emmy Olson's emphatic kill gave the Skylights their biggest lead at 23-18, but Rocky was too veteran a team to let a run bother them. The Bears got two kills from Furlong, another from Morrison and a combination block from the duo to tie the game at 24.
But the Northern seniors stopped Rocky's minirun. Another kill from Bruski got the lead and the serve. Olson served up four consecutive points including an ace to get to game-point at 29-24. Rocky rallied with a pair of kills, but Kelly Thorpe's solo block on Furlong gave Northern the game.
For all the momentum gained in the game two win, it disappeared in game three as Rocky broke open a 18-13 game with a 9-2 run to take a 26-15 lead. The combination of Morrison's hitting and Northern mistakes contributed to the run as Rocky won the game easily 30-17.
"Sometimes it's hard to ride the emotional roller coaster that we go on," Handley said. "It's tough on players, but that's the game of volleyball and you have to overcome it."
Northern's seniors tried their best as Olson, Bruski and Mitsu Phillips won nine of the Skylights' final 11 points in game four - seven those points as the Skylights rallied furiously on match-point. Olson's kill capped a seven-point run which brought the Skylights within one at 28-29. However, Morrison's soft kill closed out the match.
Morrison finished with a match-high 21 kills and three aces while Furlong added 16 kills for the Bears.
Olson led Northern with her finest match of the season, notching 19 kills, 12 digs and four aces while Bruski had 16 kills and two blocks. Phillips also had a solid match with 11 kills, while Thorpe dished out 48 assists and had 11 digs.
"Emmy's really starting to come into her own," Handley said. "She's really playing with confidence and leading with her actions on the floor."
On Saturday night, the Skylights ran into a buzz saw as a Carroll College senior ruined Northern's senior night. Mary Lester, making her final tour through the Frontier Conference, torched Northern for 12 kills and 16 digs to lead Carroll to a 30-20, 30-19, 30-23 win.
The Skylights played Carroll tough through early parts of all three games, never trailing by more than two points and leading on several occasions. However, the Saints made runs when the game was just past half way to pull away in each.
"It was no coincidence that they made their runs when the rotation had Mary on the net," Handley said. "Any time she was on the front row she caused us problems. We stopped her on a few plays, but you never completely shut her down, you just try and slow her down."
Handley also juggled the lineup a little in the match. Because of the way other matches played out around the league on Friday night, Handley knew on Saturday that her team would face UM-Western in the opening round of the Frontier Conference tournament, regardless of the outcome that night.
Consequently, she moved some people around trying to find a lineup that will work against Western, if Garcia isn't healthy enough to play.
"We gave some different people an opportunity at Lindsay's spot to hopefully find a replacement if she can't play in the tournament," Handley said. "It would have been nice getting a win, but what was most important was preparing for next week."
Unfortunately, Handley didn't see anything particularly promising in the lineup shuffling. There are some definite possibilities that will be practiced even more this week. She is also holding out for the hope that Garcia will play.
Regardless of who is on the floor, she feels her players need to play with more confidence and the belief that they are going to win instead of hoping that they'll win.
"We need to have some faith in ourselves," Handley said. "We're still a team that doesn't believe we can beat teams like Rocky and Carroll. And I believe we can, but they have to believe themselves."
Rocky Mountain def. MSU-Northern
30-24, 26-30, 30-18, 30-28
Rocky - Kills 20 (Laura Morrison 21, Katy Furlong 16), Assists 52 (Tess Morrison 52), Aces 10 (L. Morrison 3, Erica Diede 3), Digs 55 (Jen Buening 15, Kelli Sanford 11), Blocks 11 (Courtney Arthun 4, T. Morrison 4).
MSU-Northern - Kills 61 (Emmy Olson 19, Tanja Bruski 16, Mitsu Phillips 11), Assists 55 (Kelly Thorpe 48), Aces 8 (Olson 4), Digs 63 (Nicole Kruse 17, Olson 12, Thorpe 11), Blocks 5 (three tied with 2).
Carroll College def. MSU-Northern
30-20, 30-19, 30-23
Carroll - Kills 19 (Mary Lester 12, Tiffany Rochelle 11), Assists 47 (Amber Miller 32), Aces 14 (Natalie Solomon 5), Digs 49 (Lester 16), Blocks 4 (Rosie Meyn 2).
MSU-Northern - Kills 27 (Mitsu Phillips 11), Assists 24 (Kelly Thorpe 24), Aces 6 (Tanja Bruski 3), Digs 61 (Nicole Kruse 20), Blocks 6 (Bruski 4).