By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editorfirstname.lastname@example.org
Last week, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team kicked off the season with rousing success, winning their own invitational tourney with a 4-0 record.
But that was last week.
This weekend the Skylights will put their undefeated record on the line a the extremely tough Blue Hawk Classic in Dickinson, ND.
Northern opened play this morning at 10 a.m. against Mayville State University. They return to action later today, when they face the University of Mary at 2 p.m. They will round out the tournament on Saturday with matches against Minnesota State-Moorhead and Jamestown College.
"It will be a very tough tournament," said head coach Lisa Handley. "There are some very good teams there."
Still, the Skylights are coming into the tournament with a fair amount of momentum following last weekend. More than the tournament championship or the four wins, Handley liked the attitude her team showed over the weekend.
"That's huge for us," she said. "Learning how to win is a tough thing. They got the idea and feeling of what it's like to get it done right away. I hope they can continue that all season."
It won't be easy. Perhaps, Northern's easiest match will be against Mayville. The Comets were picked to finish seventh in the DAC-10 conference and return four starters from last year's quad that finished with a 6-22 last season.
Senior setter Kayla Aune returns to lead the Comets after finishing sixth in the DAC-10 in assists. Fellow senior Angie Kaufmann returns at outside hitter after averaging 3.2 digs per game last season. Also returning are middle hitters Nicole Schumacher and Ayrin Wold.
Comet head coach Chris Rodgers loaded up on size and talent, recruiting five players that are expected to come in and contribute immediately. Long Beach Community College transfers Dru James and Andi Bisol bring defense, while transfer Lisa Ripplinger brings some hitting to the Comets.
University of Mary, another DAC-10 member, was picked to finish fourth in the ten-team conference. The Marauders finished last year with a 14-16 record, but have already started with a 5-1 record and return some key players led by Flavia Siqueria of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Siqueria sat out last season due to a broken foot.
In her first year at Mary, she had an impressive 442, kills, 358 digs and 68 blocks while earning all-conference honors.
"She is a player that can play back row, be a primary passer, be a primary digger, have a high hitting efficiency and be consistent at the net," Mary head coach Heidi Sunderland told the Bismarck Tribune. "She can fill all the roles."
Fellow Sao Paulo native, Vanessa Munhoz is expected to be key contributor as is senior middle hitter Crystal Althhoff.
On Saturday, Northern will open with NCAA Division II Minnesota-Moorhead, yet another quality team. The Dragons finished last season with a 17-13 record, but lost three key starters, including all-conference performer Courtney Syvertson.
The Dragons do return six letter winners from last year led by senior setter Susan Kolbow, who averaged 9.77 assists per game. Outside hitter Sigourney Schaffer is back after earning second-team all-conference honors. Also contributing are middle blocker Diana Dykema and rightside hitter Becky Anderson.
The Skylights will face yet another DAC-10 in Jamestown to round out the tourney. The Jimmies were picked to finish fifth behind Mary in the conference. Jamestown was 19-12 last season, but struggled in conference play with a 7-6 record.
The Jimmies were hit hard by graduation, losing three all-conference players from last season including hitter Maggie Asmund and setter Carey Blanchford.
However, all-conference outside hitter Jennifer Lopes is back after a solid season. Lopes averaged 3.4 kills and 3.3 digs per game last year.
Still, the loss of their setter will be a major adjustment for head coach Chris Mahoney and his team. He will go with freshmen Kristi Senftner and Lindsey Meyers.
"That's the biggest adjustment right now," Mahoney told the Jamestown Sun. "That affects a lot of different areas. We're fortunate to have two very good setters. that allows us to continue with some of the things we do."
Northern will once again use its tremendous amount of depth to its advantage. Skylights Jordan Fox and Emilee Madsen earned all-conference honors for their performances last weekend, while Jasmine Mitchell, Jeanna McPherson, Alicia Mannin, Ashley Roth, Kelley Thorpe and Tera O'Haire will see plenty of court action after solid tournaments.
DSU CLASIC Schedule
10 a.m. - MSU-Northern vs. Mayville St.
2 p.m. - MSU-Northern vs. U of Mary
11 a.m. - MSU-Northern vs. MSU-Moorhead
3 p.m. - MSU-Northern vs. Jamestown