By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
At this rate, Montana State University-Northern volleyball coach Lisa Handley is going to either have a head full of gray hairs or premature heart problems in another week.
Her Skylights, yet again, took her through a roller coaster of emotions in a weekend split of conference matches.
Northern, which has played more five-game matches than anyone else in the Frontier, added two more to its total over the weekend.
"I don't know how many more of these matches I can take," Handley joked. "We can never win in three, it always has to be five."
On Friday night, the Skylights squandered several opportunities in a 26-30, 33-31, 29-31, 30-26, 15-11 loss to UM-Western.
The biggest missed opportunity came in Game 2, when Northern rallied from a five-point deficit to tie the match at 28. However, four hitting mistakes at crucial times late in the match hurt the Skylights and helped Western win the game 33-31.
"Not putting them away in Game 2 really hurt us," Handley said. "It really gave them a lot of confidence, which you can't do against a team like Western."
Northern fought back and won Game 3, getting solid contributions from Jordan Fox, Jasmine Mitchell and Julie Henderson.
However, Game 4 was not quite as good to the Skylights. The hitting woes returned and Fox was quiet, only getting a handful of kills.
"We went seven straight times without getting Jordan a set," Handley said. "She's been a go-to player all year and we have to get her sets in that situation."
Forced to go to a fifth and deciding game, Northern fell behind almost immediately, as Katherine Sunwall picked up two of her 24 kills on a pair of Skylight overpasses.
"Our serve-receive fell apart early in the game," Handley said. "We didn't do as good of a job of passing in the fifth game."
The inability to get a decent pass limited Northern's offense, and Western jumped out to an early four-point lead. Forced to play from behind, the Skylights committed more mistakes, including a pair of costly net serves.
"We made crucial mistakes at crucial times," Handley said. "Give Western credit though, they played really well. It's the best that I've seen them play all year."
Sunwall had 24 kills, but also boosting Western's win were outside hitters Jenny Finlay, Kendall Bradley and Rachel Bulcher, who all finished in double figures in kills.
"Their outsides really played well," Handley said. "They definitely hurt us at times."
Northern was led by Fox's 20 kills and 13 digs. Mitchell had 16 kills, while Julie Henderson added 12 kills before being limited by a hamstring injury. Emilee Madsen dished out 34 assists and picked up 13 digs for Northern.
"Overall, I was a happy with the way we hit," Handley said. "The whole team was hitting the ball hard, but it's frustrating to lose a match when we have that much talent. We need to learn how to put teams away."
On Saturday, Northern welcomed a Westminster College team it had defeated with relative ease earlier in the season, so playing at home against the Griffins should produce similar results, right?
But that just wouldn't be the Skylights.
Northern needed all five games in a 30-26, 21-30, 26-30, 30-25, 15-7 over Westminster.
"Westminster was coming off big emotional win over Great Falls the night before and carried that momentum against us," Handley said.
Even with the momentum, Northern still grabbed the opening game 30-26. Lindsay Garcia, filling in for the injured Henderson, had seven kills in the first game.
"Lindsay just took over in Game 1," Handley said.
However, Westminster rallied behind the play of outside hitter Maxi Miller, who had a match-high 21 kills, and took Games 2 and 3.
"Just like we did against Western, we allowed Westminster back into the match," Handley said. "These teams are dangerous and you can't give them confidence by letting them back. It's something we tend to do."
Forced to play from behind and staring at a possible loss, Northern rallied to take Game 4 and the decisive Game 5.
Mitchell and Garcia led the charge in Game 4, while Fox came to life in Game 5, after struggling early on.
"Jordan really stepped it up in Game 5 and started swinging," Handley said. "The big thing is that our girls really decided to start playing to win, and instead of getting behind and having to fight back, we got up early and put them away."
Playing in her last home game, Garcia made the most of it, with 13 kills, 15 digs and three aces.
"Lindsay was huge for us," Handley said. "She really stepped it up when we needed her. It just shows how good of players we have on our bench. Since it was her last home game, I was really happy for Lindsay."
Fox had 12 kills, while Mitchell added 10 kills. Madsen added 34 assists and 12 digs.
Northern finishes the regular season in a tie for third place with Rocky Mountain College at 7-7. The Skylights will take on UM-Western on Friday night at the Frontier Conference tournament in Butte.
UM-Western def. MSU-Northern
26-30, 33-31, 29-31, 30-26, 15-11
UM-W - Kills 76 (Katherine Sunwall 24, Kendall Bradley 16, Jenny Finlay 13, Rachel Bulcher 13), Assists 70 (Lindsay Scott 66), Aces 10 (Bradley 3), Digs 65 (Bradley 12, Scott 11, Ramondelli 11, Sunwall 10, Casey Barry 10), Blocks 10 (Sunwall 5).
MSU-N - Kills 76 (Jordan Fox 20, Jasmine Mitchell 16, Julie Henderson 12), Assists 66 (Emilee Madsen 34, Kelly Thorpe 28), Aces 11 (Thorpe 4), Digs 65 (Fox 13, Madsen 13), Blocks 7 (Ashley Roth 3).
MSU-Northern def. Westminster College
30-26, 21-30, 26-30, 30-25, 15-7
WC - Kills 57 (Maxi Miller 21, Fa'alua Lobendahm 11), Assists 48 (Brittany Enniss 45), Aces 14 (Bree Riet 4, Kegn Hall-Spector 4), Digs 51 (Riet 14, Brittany Trabert 10), Blocks 5 (three with 2).
MSU-N - Kills 51 (Lindsay Garcia 13, Jordan Fox 12, Jasmine Mitchell 10), Assists 44 (Emilee Madsen 29, Kelly Thorpe 10), Aces 13 (Fox 3, Garcia 3), Digs 53 (Garcia 15, Madsen 12), Blocks 14 (Jeanna McPherson 8, Tera O'Haire 7).