By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
When everything is going right, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team has the talent and weapons to get up early on teams and put them away.
Wednesday night in Great Falls, Northern had ample opportunities to put away the University of Great Falls Argos early and often at the McLaughlin Center.
But that just wouldn't be the Skylights, now would it.
Northern played its fifth five-game match of the season, outlasting UGF in a 27-30, 30-22, 25-30, 30-25, 15-12 marathon win to move to 6-6 in the Frontier Conference and within a half game of Rocky Mountain College, which sits third in the league standings.
"It's never dull with this team," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "I don't know why it is, but my team likes to come from behind in matches. It's just something that puts more gray hairs on my head."
With a propensity for five-game, heart-pounding, come-from-behind matches, Handley is going to have a full head of gray hair by the end of the season.
As has been the case all season, Northern put itself in the hole, dropping the first game of the match, despite leading for much of it.
"We probably should have won the first game," Handley said. "We let down and started playing to hang on, instead of playing to win. Once we do that, we're in trouble."
Northern fell apart late in the game, committing three consecutive offensive errors and tacking on a service error to all but give the game away.
The Skylights bounced back in Game 2, spurred on by three consecutive aces by Katy Engstrom. Northern also capitalized on a few UGF mistakes to extend the lead. Up 25-11, Handley went to her bench to close the game out, but UGF stormed back. The Skylights finally ended the rally as Jasmine Mitchell and Julie Henderson picked up a block and a kill each to seal the game.
UGF carried the momentum from the Game 2 rally into Game 3, grabbing an early lead. Northern didn't help itself out much by committing some costly hitting errors, allowing Great Falls to add to its lead. UGF put away the game thanks to four consecutive Skylight errors and a kill from Ashley Harris.
Game 4 didn't get much better as Northern basically gave UGF eight of its first 10 points with more unforced errors.
"We started off extremely slow with all those errors," Handley said. "We picked it up and came back and started putting the ball down a little better."
Handley credited her setters Emilee Madsen and Kelly Thorpe for spreading the offense around in Game 4, allowing Northern's array of hitters to take over. Northern got gills from nearly every one of its front-court players to rally back in Game 4.
"When you run a 6-2, it sometimes is tough because our setters get caught up going to certain people," Handley said. "We have so many weapons that make it tough. But I thought Kelly made some good decisions and did a nice job setting and Emilee was as consistent as she always is."
With a win in Game 4, Northern forced a fifth and deciding game. Until last weekend's loss, the Skylights had been unbeaten in five-game matches. However, Game 5 didn't start out great as Northern found itself down 8-4.
But really, the Skylights were just getting comfortable. Northern rallied with a pair of kills from Mitchell and two from Fox to cut the lead. A big combo block from Mitchell and Ashley Roth and two consecutive aces from Engstrom put Northern ahead for good.
"We can't do that all the time in game fives," Handley said. "Katy had some huge aces for us and really kind of put things away."
Northern was led by Jordan Fox's match-high 26 kills and 16 digs. Mitchell finished with 10 kills and 2.5 blocks. Ashley Roth added 16 digs and 3.5 blocks, while Madsen and Thorpe combined for 60 assists.
Besides ending a four-match losing streak, Northern avenged an earlier loss to UGF in Havre.
"It's important to get a win," Handley said. "Beating UGF with the rival that they are at their place is a confidence booster."
MSU-Northern def. U of Great Falls
27-30, 30-22, 25-30, 30-25, 15-12
MSU-Northern - Kills 66 (Jordan Fox 26, Jasmine Mitchell 10), Assists 66 (Emilee Madsen 30, Kelly Thorpe 30), Aces 10 (Katy Engstrom 5), Digs 71 (Ashley Roth 16, Fox 16), Blocks 14 (Jeanna McPherson 3.5, Roth 3.5, Mitchell 2.5).
UGF - Kills 68 (Ashley Harris 16, Jennifer Wright 15, Carolina Hapke 14), Assists 68 (Jaclyn Bird 68), Aces 5 (Denise McLain 2, Wright 2), Digs 76 (McLain 21, Wright 12), Blocks 9 (Harris 3.5).