By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team played well on Friday night, just not well enough to beat the 21st-ranked Carroll College Fighting Saints.
Led by a balanced attack with four players with double figure kills, the Saints defeated the Skylights 30-17, 30-26, 30-32, 30-22 in Frontier Conference action at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.
"I thought we played very hard," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "We played them tough throughout the match, but came up short."
The Saints set the tone early, jumping out to a 14-11 lead in Game 1. They continued to add to it behind the hitting of middle blocker Tiffany Rochelle and outside hitter Lena Mortenson.
Rochelle picked up four kills and Mortenson added a kill and two blocks to seal the game at 30-17.
In Game 2, Northern took away some of Carroll's momentum early, taking a 12-8 lead on a Jordan Fox block. The Saints fought back and took a a 13-12 lead on a Rochelle kill.
Carroll continued to push its lead to five on a Mortenson kill. Northern rallied behind three Fox kills to cut the lead to 21-19. The Skylights retook the lead at 23-22 on a Katy Engstrom back-row kill.
The two teams traded points until a Northern hitting miscue and a Natalie Solomon kill gave the Saints a 27-24 lead. Back-to-back kills from Northern's Julie Henderson put the Skylights within one, but they would get no closer. Rosie Meyn hit a kill shot to the deep corner, Henderson hit a ball into the net and Rochelle picked up a solo block to end the game.
Down 2-0 against the top team in the conference is a precarious position to be in. However, Northern has played from behind on several occasions this season.
The Skylights came out after the two-game intermission with comeback aspirations and intent on not becoming a three-game sweep casualty.
Both teams traded points early and often, with neither team grabbing more than a two-point lead until Amber Miller ripped a service ace to put Carroll up 21-18. The lead grew to as much as five at 26-21 on a Nicole Todorovich kill.
Still, the Skylights simply wouldn't go away. Northern ripped off a 7-2 run to take a 28-27 lead. Jasmine Mitchell ripped four kills and picked up a block in the run. Northern got to game point on several occasions, but Carroll seemed to rally at every opportunity. Northern finally put the Saints away on a Fox kill and a block from Jeanna McPherson.
The momentum from the dramatic Game 3 win, carried over to Game 4. The Skylights went point-for-point with the Saints, but never quite overcame a three-point deficit. Northern cut the lead to 22-20 on a Mitchell kill, but Carroll steadily pulled away from there. Natalie Solomon ripped a pair of kills and Rochelle and Mortenson added kills late to end the game and the match.
"Carroll really took advantage of our lineup," Handley said. "If you look, most of the times we would get leads it would be when Emilee (Madsen) was in the backrow. They would get it back when she was in the front."
At 5-feet-2 inches, Madsen is far from a blocking force. She did an admirable job, but with the quality of Carroll's hitters, it was still a difficult matchup.
"When we play Carroll again, we are going to have to go to a 6-2 line-up so they can't take advantage of Emilee being up front," Handley said.
The Saints aren't ranked in the top 25 without reason. They hit a solid a .285, with Rochelle (19), Mortenson (16), Solomon (16) and Meyn (14) all finishing in double figures in kills. Miller dished out 62 assists and picked up 19 digs.
Northern was led by Fox with a team-high 17 kills and nine digs. Mitchell finished with 12 kills, while Madsen dished out 49 assists. Kelly Thorpe added 11 digs for Northern.
"I told the girls not to hang their heads," Handley said. "They didn't do anything to lose the match. They just got beat by a very, very good team."
Despite the loss, Northern remains in third place in the Frontier Conference with a 5-4 record. Carroll is still perfect in conference play at 9-0.
The Skylights will be in action when they travel to Lewis-Clark State and Montana Tech this weekend.
Carroll College def. MSU-Northern
30-17, 30-26, 30-32, 30-22
CC - Kills 76 (Tiffany Rochelle 19, Lena Mortenson 16, Natalie Solomon 16, Rosie Meyn 14), Assists 67 (Amber Miller 62), Aces 7 (Miller 2, Solomon 2), Digs 52 (Miller 19, Meyn 9 ), Blocks 11 (Rochelle 5 ).
MSU-N - Kills 52 (Jordan Fox 17, Jasmine Mitchell 13, Tera O'Haire 8), Assists 52 (Emilee Madsen 49), Aces 6 (Madsen 2), Digs 46 (Kelly Thorpe 11, Jordan Fox 9), Blocks 11 (Jeanna McPherson 6, Julie Henderson 5).