By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Montana State University-Northern volleyball coach Lisa Handley was the first to admit that her team wasn't going to always play like it did the first weekend of the season, when it finished 4-0 and won its own invitational tourney.
The Skylights ran into some very tough competition and some inconsistent play to finish with a 2-4 record this past weekend.
"We looked great at times," Handley said. "And at other times, we played very hesitant."
At the always tough Dickinson State Classic, Northern finished with a 1-4 record against some quality competition.
The Skylights didn't look too hesitant as they opened with a 30-25, 30-27, 30-25 win over Mayville State.
"I thought we played pretty well against Mayville," Handley said. "We came out strong early and carried over some of the momentum we had from scrimmaging Dickinson the night before."
However, that momentum dissipated in a 30-19, 30-22, 30-21 loss to the University of Mary. Northern followed that up on Saturday with a loss to NCAA Division II Minnesota State-Moorhead. The Dragons were probably the toughest team in the tournament as evidenced by a pair of relatively easy wins over Dickinson State and National American University, both of whom are ranked in the NAIA top 10.
"Moorhead was a good team," Handley said. "But I thought we played them as tough as anyone in the tournament. We were up by seven points in two games and just couldn't put them away.'
The loss to Mary and the even tougher loss to Moorhead, didn't do much to help her team's confidence, Handley said.
"Losing those two matches definitely took a lot of our confidence away," Handley said. "We started to play hesitant, like we were unsure of ourselves."
That lack of confidence hurt Northern against Jamestown College in a 30-20, 30-24, 32-20 loss. The Skylights looked nowhere near the team it was last weekend in that match.
"Jamestown was definitely a team we should beat," Handley said. "Our serve-receive was inconsistent and that hurt us. We just didn't play with much confidence at times."
There were still plenty of positives from the tournament. Junior Julie Henderson was the lone Skylight named to the all-tournament team, which Handley said is quite an accomplishment considering the talent at the tourney.
"Julie had a great, great tournament," Handley said. "For her to make the other coaches notice her play with all of the other teams there and make the all-tournament team is fantastic."
While many people were taking a break over the long the weekend, the Skylights' work was far from done.
Northern traveled to Minot to face the Minot State Beavers in a nonconference match. Minot, spurred by a nice home court advantage, defeated Northern 30-19, 28-30, 30-27, 30-20.
The Skylights struggled a little with their passing and setting in the very spacious Minot Dome.
"The bigger gym really kind of bothered the girls' depth perception," Handley said. "We were receiving serves halfway up our arms and our setters were struggling to find the right distance."
Northern bounced back from the Sunday loss with a 30-23, 30-21, 21-30, 30-27 exhibition win over Williston State College on Monday.
It was far from easy, as Williston was playing its debut match in its brand new $5 million dollar facility.
"We knew Williston would be fired up to play in its new building," Handley said. "It's a beautiful facility and they had a nice little crowd there."
But not even the new building would help out the Tetons. Northern played a variety of players in the four-game win.
"We were able to play a lot of our younger players," Handley said. "We were also able to look at some different looks and combinations and work on some things."
Handley admitted there is no shortage of things to work on this week as her team prepares for the MSU-Billings Invitational.
"The big thing about our girls is that they are willing to take those mistakes and learn from them," she said. "They are learning from one day to the next. The big thing I have to remember is that we are still a very young team and there are going to be times when we are inconsistent."
MSU-Northern def. Mayville St. 30-25, 30-27, 30-25
U of Mary def. MSU-Northern 30-19, 30-22, 30-21
Minnesota-Moorhead def. MSU-Northern 30-27, 30-20, 30-22
Jamestown College def. MSU-Northern 30-20, 30-24, 32-20
Minot State def. MSU-Northern 30-19, 28-30, 30-27, 30-20
MSU-Northern def. Williston St. 30-23, 30-21, 21-30, 30-27