Havre Daily News Sports Editor
Everybody loves a parade, at least that's how the old saying goes. For the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team, Havre's Festival Days parade offered them the right amount of down time needed to overcome a tough loss Friday night to Rocky Mountain College and rebound for a rare win over Carroll College on Saturday night at the MSU-Northern gym.
In terms of losses, Friday night's defeat at the hands of the Battlin' Bears was one of the more excruciating in head coach Lisa Handley's tenure. Northern dropped a disappointing 32-34, 31-29, 28-30, 30-27, 15-10 decision to a very good Rocky squad. However, Handley was the first to admit that it was a match her team should have won.
"Really, we should have beat them in three games, not lose in five," she said. "We just made some very key errors at critical times. We missed serves, we gave up aces we should have got to and made some poor decisions in terms of our shot selection."
Perhaps the first game of the Rocky match was a sign of things to come. Northern played well initially and took control of the game, leading 29-24. Needing only one point to get a win in Game 1, the Skylights fell apart, allowing Rocky to tie the match at 29 on a series of bad passes and hitting errors.
The two teams traded points and each got to game point on two different occasions. The Skylights ended the drama as Tera O'Haire ripped a kill down the line and Julie Henderson made a heady tip to secure a 34-32 win.
"That wasn't exactly how I wanted to start the match," Handley said. "We played so well early, but we just let up once we got to game point."
In Game 2, the Skylights fell behind early and spent most of the game playing catch up. They trimmed a six-point deficit to tie the game at 26. The Skylights had a chance to win the game as Ashley Roth gave them a 29-28 lead on a nice kill. However, Tracee Tesch's serve was wide on the next play to tie the game at 28. Rocky got back-to-back aces from Kelly Fox to win the game.
Northern rebounded from the Game 2 loss, to win Game 3, 30-28, as the trio of O'Haire, Roth and Jordan Fox combined for some key kills in the game.
However, the Skylights squandered a chance to win the match in Game 4. They played point-for-point with Rocky down the stretch, but a couple of mistakes late in the game allowed Rocky to force a deciding fifth game with a 30-27 win. In Game 5, the Skylights' serve-receive broke down early. Rocky serves that were handled easily earlier in the match, suddenly became impossible to pick up cleanly. Rocky grabbed a 6-5 lead and never looked back, rolling to a 15-10 win.
"I think we played a little scared at the end," Handley said. "Nobody wanted to step up and take control. They were looking for someone else to dig the ball up, instead of taking it themselves. We had a breakdown defensively and it was very frustrating."
The loss overshadowed a solid overall performance from the Skylights. Northern had five players reach double figures in kills with Fox leading with way with 16 kills and 16 digs. Mitchell had 12 kills and six blocks, while O'Haire had perhaps her best offensive match of the season with 11 kills. Jeanna McPherson had 10 kills and seven blocks, while Julie Henderson had 10 kills.
"I thought Tera played a fantastic match," Handley said. "We knew that we needed some production from our middles because they are so big on the outside. Tera, Jeanna and Ashley all really stepped up their level of play."
Still, the loss was very frustrating for the Skylights, especially with defending league champ Carroll College coming in the next day.
"It was a tough loss for our girls," Handley said. "To lose a match when you played well enough to win was very frustrating for the girls. But we were in the parade the next day and I think it provided us with some time to forget about the loss. We came out loose and relaxed against Carroll and not uptight about what happened the night before."
The looseness showed as the Skylights picked up a hardfought 30-28, 25-30, 24-30, 30-26, 15-11 win over the Saints. It is the first time Northern has defeated Carroll in more than 10 years.
"I think its a huge win in terms of confidence," Handley said. "For us, we just had this mental block when it came to playing Carroll. We knew we were capable of beating them. We just couldn't find a way to do it. This win helps them realize they can."
Of course, the win didn't come easy for the Skylights. They never do.
Northern showed few effects from the loss the night before as both teams traded points in Game 1. Down 28-27, theSkylights got back-to-back blocks from Fox and O'Haire to get to game point. Fox punctuated the Game 1 win with an emphatic kill on an overpass. The momentum from the Game 1 win, dissipated as Northern dropped the next two games 30-25 and 30-24.
"We weren't particularly sharp," Handley said. "We made some mistakes that we weren't making on Friday night."
The Skylights overcame those mistakes, rallying to win Game 4, 30-26, to force a fifth game. In Game 4, Mitchell took control late with some emphatic kills and sealed the win with a big solo block. Spurred on by a little chatter across the net with the Carroll players, Mitchell responded with raw emotion and even better play.
"Jasmine tried to tone down her emotions early on this season, but she wasn't playing well," Handley said. "When she started letting her emotion come out, she started playing well. That's who she is. She has to play with that emotion. Sometimes it brings out the best in other teams, but we need Jasmine to be Jasmine."
After seemingly falling behind early in every game, the Skylights took control early in Game 5, jumping out to a 4-1 lead on a Fox ace. Carroll rallied to tie the game at six, but never took the lead. A couple of uncharacteristic mistakes by the Saints allowed Northern to push the lead to 9-6.
The Skylights stretched the lead to 13-7 on a Roth kill. They secured the win as Tesch made a gutsy tip on a set to get to match point. Carroll's Natalie Solomon served the ball into the net on match-point to give the Skylights the win.
"I am really proud of Tracee," Handley said. "That was a big match and we put a lot of pressure on her by moving Emilee (Madsen-Summers) to libero after Game 2 and going to a 5-1 offense. She made a few mistakes, but she made some incredibly smart plays that put us over the top."
Henderson led Northern with 16 kills, while Mitchell had 12 kills and six blocks.
"We gave ourselves 'til midnight to be mad about the loss to Rocky," Mitchell said. "After that, we had to put it behind us and focus on Carroll. We wanted to make our serves, make better shots, make better plays in crunch time. It's big for us to beat Carroll from a confidence standpoint. It hasn't happened in quite awhile."
The win might have lost a little of its luster considering the Saints were playing without setter Katie Polette, who was out with severely sprained ankle. Solomon and Christy Tyrell have shared the setting duties since Polette went down.
"Not having their setter definitely affected them," Handley said. "She is probably one of the best setters in the conference and it makes a difference when she's not out there."
But Northern was without one of its key players as McPherson missed the match to attend her sister's wedding. Not having one of the conference's top blockers for a match against Carroll wasn't exactly a recipe for success. But Roth made a seamless transition to the starting lineup and flourished.
"Ashley played well," Handley said. "She's not as good of blocker as Jeanna, but she did a good job. I was proud of the other girls, too. They stepped up their efforts defensively because Jeanna was missing."
Northern will hope to continue its winning ways as it prepares for its first conference road games. The Skylights will face Montana Tech on Thursday in Butte and Lewis-Clark State on Saturday in Lewiston, Idaho.
"We need to build off this win and momentum and take it on the road to Tech," Handley said. "We need to go in confident, but not cocky."
Rocky Mountain def. MSU-Northern
32-34, 31-29, 28-30, 30-27, 15-10
RMC - Kills 60 (Kelly Fox 11, Courtney Arthun 10), Assists 53 (Melissa St. John 27, Hailey Pearce 21), Aces 8 (Erin Pehl 3), Digs 70 (Bethany Kost 14, Jen Buening 13, Jacque Walen 12), Blocks 18 (Kelly Fox 8, Courtney Arthun 7).
MSU-N - Kills 72 (Jordan Fox 16, Jasmine Mitchell 12, Tera O'Haire 11, Julie Henderson 10, Jeanna McPherson 10), Assists 64 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 32, Tracee Tesch 23), Aces 8 (Jordan Fox 4), Digs 60 (Jordan Fox 16, Kelly Thorpe 14), Blocks 19 (Jeanna McPherson 7, Jasmine Mitchell 6).
MSU-Northern def. Carroll College
30-28, 25-30, 24-30, 30-26, 15-11
CC - Kills 73 (Tiffany Rochelle 19), Assists 67 (Christy Tyrrell 53), Aces 11 (Tiffany Rochelle 3), Digs 86 (Rosie Meyn 18, Valissa Sneck 18), Blocks 8 (Tiffany Rochelle 3, Laurie Chambers 3).
MSU-N - Kills 52 (Julie Henderson 16), Assists 77 (leaders unavailable), Aces 10 (Jordan Fox 3), Digs 70 (Jordan Fox 15), Blocks 15 (Jasmine Mitchell 6).