By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
It's funny how a win can make a long drive seem just a little shorter.
After traveling around a good portion of the state of Montana and picking up a pair of losses along the way, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team made the trip a little better by defeating No. 22 Dickinson State University 25-30, 30-18, 30-28, 30-26, 15-10 in nonconference action Sunday in Glasgow.
Northern's trek began with a trip to Helena on Friday to face the Frontier Conference leading Saints.
In front of a hostile crowd, the Skylights took the opening game of the match 30-27 and fought point-for-point with the Saints in the next three games before falling 27-30, 30-27, 30-22, 30-27.
"We played them tough for the whole match," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "It easily could have gone the other way. We made a few mistake late in the game and some close calls went against us."
Beating Carroll is tough when you are getting breaks, but nearly impossible when you're not.
"They just play really sound," Handley said. "They know how to finish teams off, which is something we don't know how to do yet."
Northern shined at the net, accumulating 18 blocks in the match, led by Jasmine Mitchell's match-high 11. Jeanna McPherson had eight and Ashley Roth added seven.
"I was pleased with how we blocked," Handley said. "It was our best blocking performance of the season. We didn't hit as well as I had hoped. Some of our hitters weren't as productive as we needed them to be."
Jordan Fox finished with a team-high 18 kills, while Mitchell chipped in with nine. Emilee Madsen dished out 21 assists and picked up 15 kills.
Carroll was led by senior Lena Mortenson with 22 kills.
The Skylights were rewarded for their solid play with a nice van ride to Billings for another conference match with Rocky Mountain College on Sunday. Unlike the night before, Northern struggled throughout the match, falling 30-20, 29-31, 13-30, 22-30 to the Bears.
"The toughest part about playing in Rocky's gym is how quiet it is in there," Handley said. "Against Carroll, the gym was packed and loud and cheering against us; the girls really fed off that. We didn't have that at Rocky."
Besides the lack of emotion, Northern had a lack of offense. The Skylights committed 34 hitting errors and hit a .074 percentage, which is far below decent.
"They did a nice job of taking us out of our offense with their serving," Handley said. "They served so well. It got us frustrated and took us out of our game. We averaged 12 unforced errors in each game."
Mitchell led Northern with 14 kills and four blocks, while Fox finished with 10 kills and 12 digs. Freshman Kelly Fox led Rocky with 12 kills, while Courtney Arthurn had 10 kills and four blocks.
Sometime after the loss to Rocky, possibly on the scenic drive from Billings to Glasgow, Handley decided to shake things up for the match against the perennial national power Dickinson State.
Handley went from the two-setter to rotation to a single setter and five attackers. She left Madsen at setter and moved her other setter, Kelly Thorpe, to the libero position.
The move worked wonders, as Madsen dished out 58 assists and recorded 14 digs. The main drawback with the new rotation meant that Madsen, who stands at 5-3, would have to play at the net at times. But Northern's defense responded to the mismatch, picking up 104 digs, led by Thorpe with 32. Katy Engstrom added 20 digs and looked sharp after missing two weeks with an injury.
"Our defense really picked it up," Handley said. "We even switched our defense, and they didn't miss a beat. Everybody did their job and stepped up. We never gave up once in the match."
Handley used Mitchell as the example of her team's tenacity. After starting slowly with four hitting errors early in the match, Mitchell fought back to rack up a career-high 24 kills and committing just two hitting errors in the last three games.
"Jasmine got herself out of that funk and played fantastic," Handley said. "She really played great all weekend."
Fox had yet another consistent performance with 20 kills and 13 digs and not a single error in the match.
"That's unreal," Handley said. "To not have an error of any type in a five-game match is unbelievable."
The win was Northern's first in six matches and much needed for the Skylights' psyche.
"I hope this helps us confidence-wise," Handley said. "They are the no. 22 ranked team in the country and usually a top 10 team. The girls just played hard the entire match and kept fighting when we got down."
The Skylights will be in action at home for the first time in a month Friday and Saturday, when they host Lewis-Clark State and Montana Tech in a pair of conference matches.
Carroll College def. MSU-Northern
27-30, 30-27, 30-22, 30-27
MSU-N - Kills 46 (Jordan Fox 18, Jasmine Mitchell 9), Assists 36 ( Emilee Madsen 21, Kelly Thorpe 13), Aces 9 (Julie Henderson 3), Digs 78 (Emilee Madsen 15, Alicia Mannin 14), Blocks 18 (Jasmine Mitchell 11, Jeanna McPherson 9).
CC - Kills 66 (Lena Mortenson 22), Assists 66 (Amber Miller 56), Aces 9 (Amber Carter 3, Christie Tyrell 3), Digs 80 (Amber Carter 24, Natalie Solomon 16), Blocks 9 (Nicole Todorovich 3.5).
Rocky Mountain def. MSU-Northern
30-20, 29-31, 13-30, 22-30
MSU-N - Kills 42 (Jasmine Mitchell 14, Jordan Fox 10), Assists 38 (Emilee Madsen 22, Kelly Thorpe 12), Aces 5 (Alicia Mannin 2), Digs 60 (Jordan Fox 12, Julie Henderson 10 ), Blocks 6 (Jasmine Mitchell 4).
RMC - Kills 51 (Kelly Fox 12, Courtney Arthurn 10), Assists 41 (Hailey Pearce 33), Aces 10 (Laura Morrison 4), Digs 60 (Jen Buening 21), Blocks 10 (Arthurn 4).
MSU-Northern def. Dickinson St.
25-30, 30-18, 30-28, 30-26, 15-10
MSU-N - Kills 70 (Jasmine Mitchell 24, Jordan Fox 20), Assists 59 (Emilee Madsen 58), Aces 12 (Jordan Fox 3, Lindsay Garcia 3, Tear O'Haire 3), Digs 104 (Kelly Thorpe 32, Katy Engstrom 20), Blocks 4 (Jeanna McPherson 3, Julie Henderson 3).
DSU - No stats available