By Ryan Divish/Havre Daily News Sports Editoremail@example.com
Superstitions aside, Montana State University-Northern volleyball head coach Lisa Handley doesn't believe in, or at least want to hear about old coaches' sayings.
Particularly, "The toughest thing to do in sports is beat the same team three times in one season."
"Don't even say it," Handley said when the adage was about to be brought up. "We're not thinking about things like that. Don't jinx us."
Handley's state of denial is because Northern will try and turn the trifecta against the UM-Western Bulldogs on Friday night at 7 p.m., to open a weekend of Frontier Conference volleyball action. The Skylights will host Westminster College on Saturday night at 7.
It will be the first match in over a week for the Skylights, who defeated the University of Great Falls 27-30, 30-22, 25-30, 30-25, 15-12 last Wednesday. With the extended break, Handley gave her girls some time off this week.
"We gave them four days off to get rested and healed up," she said. "I really think the break reenergized them. We had some girls banged up and they were able to get healed up some. We're already seeing the results in practice."
Northern will need to be recharged to defeat a Western squad that is building momentum, heading into the conference tournament. The Bulldogs are 5-7 in the conference and coming off a 3-2 win over Lewis-Clark State.
"Western is a dangerous team right now," Handley said. "Katherine Sunwall is playing very well right now."
Sunwall isn't the whole Bulldog team, but she's a big part. The junior from Great Falls leads the conference in blocks at 1.86 per game, is second in the conference points per game at 4.86 and second in kills at 3.83. She also ranks third in hitting percentage.
"She knows how to place her shots," said sophomore captain Katy Engstrom "She's their one leader, and if we can shut her down, it's big."
Western also has solid players in outside hitter Jenny Finlay, setter Lindsay Scott and libero Kendall Bradley.
"We know they are going to want to come in here and beat us after beating them twice," Engstrom said. "They're out to get us that's for sure."
Perhaps it's a good thing to get the Western match out of the way before facing Westminster on Saturday.
The Griffins come into Havre with a 3-9 conference record, having already been defeated by the Skylights 27-30, 30-24, 30-23, 30-28 in Salt Lake City.
"Westminster is a young team that has been very up and down this season," Handley said. "But they've played a ton of close matches with good teams this season."
The Griffins are led by sophomore outside hitter Maxi Miller, who ranks fourth in the conference in kills at 3.36 per game. Senior setter Brittany Enniss is seventh in the Frontier in assists at 7.65 per game.
Even with the Griffins record, the Skylights are taking nothing for granted.
"We can't overlook anybody," Engstrom said. "Volleyball is an up and down sport and any team is capable of winning on any night in this league."
The Skylights (6-6) have plenty to play for this weekend, specifically third place in the conference and a winning conference record for the first time in 10 years.
With the win over UGF, Northern has already racked up more conference wins that it has in 10 years.
"We're playing for a little bit of program history," Handley said.
Northern will have the added incentive of senior night festivities on Saturday. However, the Skylights technically don't have a senior on their roster.
Instead, Handley will honor junior Lindsay Garcia, who will leave the program after this year, since she is graduating and getting married.
"She's been an asset to this team by pushing the other players in practices, and she's answered the call when we've needed her in games," Handley said. "She's a team leader without being on the court all the time. She is one of the hardest working players I've ever coached. It's hard to see her go."