Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team is finding out just how tough the Frontier Conference is going to be the rest of the season. A week removed from a victorious road trip to Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College, the Skylights managed a home split with Lewis-Clark State and Montana Tech this weekend.
On Friday night, MSU-N was put to the test early against last-place LC State. In the first game, the Warriors caught the Skylights a little off guard and found a way to pull the game out 30-27.
It didn't take Northern long to bounce back. Over the next two games, the Skylights took control of the match with solid passing and timely hitting. Northern cruised to victories in games two and three by scores of 30-22 and 30-17.
“I thought the biggest thing about our win over LC State was that once we got up, we didn't have any letdowns,” Skylights head coach Lisa Handley said. “After the first game, we played very smart volleyball and we never let them back into the match.”
Indeed, after the 30-17 thumping in game three, the Skylights finished the Warriors off in the fourth game, 30-24. Northern capitalized on a mountain of errors by LC State, but Handley also credits her team for staying focused.
“After the first game, LC State made quite a few mistakes,” Handley said. “But we played very smart. We passed the ball well and had key people step up and hit the ball well.”
The trio of Jasmine Mitchell, Jordan Fox and Tera O'Haire combined for 45 of Northern's 56 kills. Mitchell led the way with 14 kills and a pair of blocks. Fox added 11 kills and led the team in digs with 11.
The Warriors got 10 kills from Lindsay Scott in the losing cause. Julie Maciboba added eight kills and three blocks.
Saturday night the Skylights honored their seniors before the start of their match with Montana Tech. The ceremony seemed to ignite the Skylights as they came out and took the first game of the match, 30-28.
From there, it was the Orediggers, and not the Skylights, who seized control of the match. Montana Tech hitters Maria McNeil, CoreyAnne Russell and Krystle Spang took advantage of Northern's poor passing and ended up hurting the Skylights at the net.
Tech took the lead at 4-3 of game two and never trailed again in the match, winning three straight games by scores of 30-25, 30-26 and 32-30. The only real drama of the match came when the Skylights rallied from a huge deficit in game four to pull even at 30-30. Tech would not be denied and ended the match two points later.
“Our serve-receive game was very poor tonight,” Handley said. “That was the big difference in the match. Tech is one of the best serving teams in the conference, and they were on tonight.
“As a result of that, we passed the ball very poorly and that allowed their hitters to really get going,” she added. “This was a totally different Tech team than they were in the first half of the season, and they played really well tonight.”
Mitchell tried to keep Northern in the match with a team-high 17 kills. Fox and O'Haire also played admirably, with 15 and 10 kills, respectively. Former Havre High standout Jeanna McPherson was also solid, with four solo blocks on the night.
“Jasmine just continued to play really well all weekend,” Handley said. “She is really leading our team right now.
“I thought Tera also had a great weekend,” she added. “She played very smart in both matches and did the right things when she had the ball.”
McNeill was dominant for Tech. She had 25 of her team's 75 kills. Russell added 13 kills, and Lindsay Balfour had 66 of Tech's 69 assists. The Orediggers also served nine aces on the night.
Although Northern earned a split, which is always good in the rugged Frontier Conference, Handley found it tough to swallow the fact that Tech earned a season sweep of the Skylights.
“It's disappointing to lose to Tech twice because it breaks the tie between us now,” she said. “But we did get a split this weekend, and that is never easy to do. That is what makes this league so tough right now. Anybody can win on any given night.”
The Skylights (5-6, 10-10) will host the University of Great Falls on Wednesday for their final home match of the season.
MSU-N def. LC State
27-30, 30-22, 30-17, 30-24
LC State - Kills 44 (Lindsay Scott 10, Julie Maciboba 8); Blocks 6 (Maciboba 3); Digs 49 (Dawn Ingrham 15); Assists 37 (Mindy Meyer 28); Aces 6 (Ingrham 3).
MSU-N - Kills 56 (Jasmine Mitchell 14, Jordan Fox 11, Tera O'Haire 10); Blocks 14 (Mitchell 2); Digs 56 (Fox 14, Kelly Thorpe 13, Tracee Tesch 10); Assists 44 (Tesch 23); Aces 5 (Jeanna McPherson 2, Emilee Madsen-Summers 2).
Montana Tech def. MSU-N
28-30, 30-25, 30-26 32-20
Montana Tech - Kills 75 (Maria McNeil 25, CoreyAnne Russell 13, Krystle Spang 12, Liz Marisk 12); Blocks 9 (Marisk 3); Digs 56 (Rebekah Hudson 19); Assists 69 (Lindsay Balfour 66); Aces 9 (Russell 4).
MSU-N - Kills 63 (Jasmine Mitchell 17, Jordan Fox 15, Tera O'Haire 10); Blocks 10 (Jeanna McPherson 4); Digs 65 (Kelly Thorpe 22, Fox 11); Assists 58 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 26, Tracee Tesch 22); Aces 8 (Tesch 3, Fox 2, Madsen-Summers 2).