By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team hasn't exactly been dominant in road matches this season. But it looks like things are about to change.
The Skylights swept a pair of Frontier Conference road matches for the first time since head coach Lisa Handley can remember.
"It's huge to get two road wins in conference," Handley said. "I can't remember the last time a Northern team won both road matches in conference on a weekend."
Northern's weekend didn't start off all that positive. The Skylights struggled early in the match against Westminster College but rebounded to take a 27-30, 30-24, 30-23, 30-28 win.
The first game of the match was particularly trying. The Skylights were whistled for eight double-contact calls on sets.
"I've never been that mad at a referee in my life," Handley said. "Basically, anybody who set a ball besides Emilee (Madsen) was called for double contact. We lost eight points because of that."
Despite the mild controversy, the Skylights prevailed by making adjustments and beating Westminster with solid hitting and blocking.
"I was very happy with the way the girls played," Handley said. "They didn't let the refs take them out of their games. And our hitters really stepped up and put some balls away."
The Skylights were led by Julie Henderson's 14 kills, 15 digs and four aces.
"Julie had a nice match," Handley said. "She hit smart and played a good all-around match."
Northern also got a huge lift from Tera O'Haire, who registered nine of the teams 19 blocks.
"Tera played like a maniac," Handley said. "She was all over the place, getting blocks, serving up some aces and getting some key digs. She played fantastic."
The win was even sweeter for the Skylights, considering they had somewhat of a home-court advantage with several fans there cheering on Utah natives Madsen and Jordan Fox.
"We had a lot of fans there," Handley said. "I think it really raised the girls' level of play. They were very focused and played with a lot of emotion."
The Skylights completed the weekend sweep with a 19-30, 30-18, 30-28, 30-28 win over the UM-Western Bulldogs on Saturday night.
Again, Northern dropped the first game of the match, this time with an array of hitting errors. But they rallied to defeat the Bulldogs for the second time this season.
"There wasn't really that tension after we lost the first game," Handley said. "The girls were still really relaxed and loose. And played really well the rest of the match."
Fox led Northern with 16 kills and eight digs, while Madsen added 44 assists and 21 digs. Jasmine Mitchell and Jeanna McPherson combined for 21 kills and three blocks. Defensively, Katy Engstrom and Kelly Thorpe added 15 and 14 digs, respectively. Northern also got a nice lift from Ashley Roth, who had six kills and three blocks off the bench.
"Ashley was our MVP of the game," Handley said. "She made some key plays when we needed them in games three and four. Jeanna had a nice game. She wasn't intimidated by Western's Katherine Sunwall. She went right at her."
Northern returns to action Thursday when it hosts Rocky Mountain College.
MSU-Northern def. Westminster College
27-30, 30-24, 30-23, 30-28
MSU-N - Kills 50 (Julie Henderson 14, Jordan Fox 13, Jasmine Mitchell 10), Assists 50 (Emilee Madsen 48), Aces 12 (Henderson 4), Digs 54 (Henderson 15, Emilee Madsen 10 ), Blocks 14 (Tera O'Haire 9, Henderson 5).
WC - Kills 43 (Maxi Miller 11), Assists 43 (Brittany Enniss 41), Aces 9 (three with 2), Digs 52 (Paige Hunt 16), Blocks 8 (Miller 1).
MSU-Northern def. UM-Western
19-30, 30-18, 30-28, 30-28
MSU-N - Kills 38 (Jordan Fox 16, Jasmine Mitchell 11, Jeanna McPherson 10), Assists 48 (Emilee Madsen 44), Aces 13 (Julie Henderson 3), Digs 82 (Emilee Madsen 21, Katy Engstrom 15, Kelly Thorpe 14), Blocks 7 (Ashley Roth 3, Jeanna McPherson 3).
UM-W - Kills 26 (Katherine Sunwall 14, Kendall Bradley 11), Assists 43 (Lindsey Scott 37), Aces 6 (Casey Berry), Digs 77 (Kendall Bradley 22, Lindsey Scott 16), Blocks 15 (Sunwall 11).