By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
One thing is for certain for the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team, after this weekend, it will be very familiar with MSU-Billings and Minot State University
The Skylights traveled to Billings on Thursday night for what amounts to a three-team two-day tournament or as they call it in high school - a triangular.
Northern opens tourney play today against MSU-Billings at noon and then plays Minot at 2 p.m. On Saturday, the Skylights will face Minot again at 10 a.m. and then take on MSU-Billings at noon.
Obviously Northern head coach Lisa Handley was far from ecstatic at the prospect of driving 250 miles to play the same two teams twice in two days. But court time is court time. Handley even scheduled a match in Sheridan, Wyo. At 7 p.m. on Saturday to get on the court some more.
"I'm a little disappointed that we are only playing Minot and MSU-Billings," Handley said. "But this is an opportunity to play a match and watch the film, make some adjustment and play the team again."
At least the two teams will be quality opponents.
MSU-Billings comes into the tourney with 3-1 record, fresh off of winning the Aspen Hotels Invitational last weekend in Anchorage, Alaska.
The Yellowjackets were led by sophomore outside hitter Jessica Bratton, who earned most outstanding player honors in the tournament, and Pac-West Conference player of the week honors after averaging 4.79 kills per game with a .250 hitting percentage.
"That's saying something to win player of the week," Handley said. "Because they play in the same conference as teams from Hawaii."
Joining Bratton on the all-tournament team were teammates Olivia Munro and sophomore setter Natalie Bills. The Jackets also get plenty of production from senior Andrea Donahue and freshman Alicia Cazemeier. Donahue had a solid hitting performance, while Cazemeier led the team with 19 blocks on the weekend.
"They're a good team and they have been playing well lately," Handley said.
As if this weekend won't be enough, the Skylights just played Minot State last Sunday in Minot. Northern lost the match 30-19, 28-30, 30-27, 30-20.
The Beavers, 2-4 on the season, were led in the match by senior outside hitter Lisa Webb. A solid left-handed hitter, Webb notched 20 kills against Northern.
"We need to shut down their big lefty," Handley said. "We didn't focus on her enough on that first match and she hurt us. We are going to make more of an effort to slow her down."
However, Minot is far from a one-woman show. MSU has solid defenders in Meagan Paradine and Carrie Sandstrom. Paradine served up three aces and nine consecutive points in the decisive fourth game, while picking up 20 digs in the match. Sandstrom added a team-high 30 digs.
"We know they're going to play great defense and dig up every ball," Handley said. "We just can't get frustrated because we're going to see teams like that during conference."
Oh yes, the conference. For the Skylights, this will be their final tune-up before they begin conference play next week on the road at Dillon and Butte.
"They know its time to start playing," Handley said. "They need to start being a little cocky and have some confidence in their play. We have the weapons, we have the passing and we have the setting, but we have to start wanting it more than other teams."
Handley has preached the idea of wanting to win to her team ceaselessly this year already, but its importance is something her players have to know.
"They have to want to win," Handley said. "I can't make them. Sometimes it seems like they go harder in practices because of consequences like running. They need to go hard because they want to win."