Havre Daily News Sports Editor
The purpose of playing in the Region I Challenge volleyball tournament in Lewiston, Idaho this past weekend was to see good competition. The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team saw plenty of that and more.
The Skylights finished with a 1-3 record against some of the best teams that Region I has to offer.
"I thought it went really good at times and at other times we looked pretty poor," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "We just couldn't find any consistency this week."
On Friday, Northern opened with a tough 30-25, 30-28, 30-25 loss to Albertson College. The Skylights were without six players, including three starters who sat out the match for violation of team rules. With a makeshift lineup, Northern still almost pulled off the win.
"Honestly, if we have those players, we probably beat Albertson," Handley said. "We had to have our middle blockers play all the way around the rotation and move our libero to outside hitter."
Jordan Fox racked up a match-high 20 kills and picked up 12 digs to lead the Skylights. Emilee Madsen-Summer dished out 32 assists, while true freshman Hope Wirll had a solid college debut with nine kills and nine digs.
"The girls that were out there really fought hard," Handley said. "Hope played very well for her first match. But it's tough not to be upset when you know its a match you should've won."
Handley got her starters back for their second match of the day against 22nd-ranked Northwest University, however the results were the same in a 30-25, 29-31, 33-31, 30-14 loss.
"We played them very tough," Handley said. "They were the best defensive team in the tournament and it kept them in the match."
After dropping the first game, the Skylights rallied to win game 2 with a 31-29 win. Northern appeared headed to win in game 3, reaching game points three different times. However, the Skylights simply could not put the game winner away and Northwest was able to pull out the win.
Now instead of being up 2-1, Northern was down 2-1 and things fell apart in game 4 as Northwest rolled to a 30-14 win.
"You could see that loss really affect them," Handley said. "If we go up 2-1, that's a match we win. We can't lose a game and let it affect us like that."
Jasmine Mitchell led Northern with 11 kills, while Jeanna McPherson had a big match with 11 kills and nine blocks. True freshman Tracee Tesch had 16 assists and five aces in her first match.
"Tracee really did a good job of running the team," Handley said. "She was out there against some very good teams and played very well."
On Saturday, Northern picked up its first win of the season with a 30-25, 30-24, 30-24 win over Western Baptist University. Not only did the Skylights get their first win, but they also got a little vindication,
"Western Baptist was the team that they took regionals last year instead of us," Handley said. "We came out with that in mind and wanted to show them we are a tough team."
Northern dominated from the opening serve and played its best match of the weekend. The Skylights hit the ball with solid accuracy, racking up 48 kills with just 12 hitting errors. Fox rebounded from a tough match with a match-high 14 kills. Mitchell added eight kills, while McPherson had seven kills and two blocks. Tesch and Madsen-Summers combined for 28 assists and four aces.
The Skylights winning streak was short-lived as 11th-ranked Southern Oregon handled Northern in a 30-21, 30-19, 30-19 win.
The Raiders used stellar passing and solid hitting to get the win.
"Southern Oregon is a big and powerful tea," Handley said. "But they had a two person serve-receive that was just amazing. They could pass anything."
Meanwhile, Northern's serve-receive broke down in the match and the Skylights fell apart.
"When our serve-receive broke down, we had a tough time getting any points at all," Handley said.
Julie Henderson led the way with five kills and an ace. McPherson had four kills and three blocks.
While Handley would have loved to finish the weekend with a winning record, she knows that there was plenty of positives.
"We saw some tough competition which is the whole reason we went to the tournament," she said. "We played well at times, but I think the girls all know they can play better."
The Skylights will now embark on a six-day east-coast road trip. Northern will fly to New York for five matches in three days. Although the trip will offer plenty of court time, Handley is hoping her team will grow off the court as well.
"We're hoping that being together for such a long period will help us really come together as a team," she said. "We're going to use it as a time to get know each other off the court as well."
The Skylights will face Daeman College on Thursday, while playing four matches at the Roberts Wesleyan College Tournament on Friday and Saturday. The competition is a bit of an unknown to Handley.
"None of the team are ranked in the NAIA Top 30 and their websites don't have much information," she said. "I am hoping to find out more when we get there."
Still, Handley is more concerned about her team and how it is progressing.
"Right now, we're mentally soft," she said. "We have to find some mental toughness especially when things aren't going our way. We can run them and talk to them, but they have to make that decision themselves to get tougher."
Hopefully, a little more mental toughness will lead to more consistent play.
"We need more consistency from each individual," she said. "Right now, there are people pushing for starting positions like Ashley Roth. We'll get plenty of matches to find out what our best lineup is."
Albertson def. MSU-Northern
30-25, 30-28, 30-25
MSU-Northern - Kills 41 (Jordan Fox 20, Hope Wirll 9), Assists 35 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 32), Aces 4 (four with 1), Digs 44 (Fox 12, Wirll 9), Blocks 4 (Fox 2, Tera O'Haire 2, Jeanna McPherson 2).
Albertson College - Kills 45 (Kathryn Ely 13), Assists 36 (Erin Cherrington 30), Aces 13 (Ely 5), Digs 42 (Charity Gaston 10), Blocks 5 (Aubrey Nielson 2).
Northwest def. MSU-Northern
30-25, 29-31, 33-31, 30-14
MSU-Northern - Kills 47 (Jasmine Mitchell 11, Jeanna McPherson 10), Assists 36 (Tracee Tesch 16, Emilee Madsen-Summers 14), Aces 10 (Tracee Tesch 5), Digs 22 (Kelly Thorpe 8, Jordan Fox 6), Blocks 20.5 (Jeanna McPherson 9, Julie Henderson 7).
Northwest University - Kills 60 (Emily Marquez 17, Sara Bendorf 14), Assists 44 (Alison Simmons 44), Aces 10 (Simmons 4), Digs 22 (Jessie Buck 6), Blocks 12.5 (Marquez 8).
MSU-Northern def. Western Baptist
30-25, 30-24, 30-24
MSU-Northern - Kills 48 (Jordan Fox 14, Jasmine Mitchell 8), Assists 34 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 15, Tracee Tesch 13), Aces 10 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 3), Digs 14 (Tracee Tesch 5), Blocks 8 (Julie Henderson 4).
Western Baptist College - Kills 29 (Chelsea Reeher 9), Assists 20 (Nina Clanton 5), Aces 5 (Hallie McNaughton 2), Digs 13 (Becky Horn 5), Blocks 8 (four with 2).
Southern Oregon def. MSU-Northern
30-21, 30-19, 30-19
MSU-Northern - Kills 19 (Julie Henderson 5, Jordan Fox 4, Jeanna McPherson 4), Assists 14 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 7), Aces 2 (Jordan Fox 1, Julie Henderson 1), Digs 6 (Jordan Fox 2), Blocks 4 (Jeanna McPherson 3).
Southern Oregon - Kills 33 (Nicholette Baran 9), Assists 24 (Kristen Lilly 10), Aces 7 (three with 2), Digs 16 (Kristen Lilly 10), Blocks 4.5 (Jaclyn Hamilton-Smith 2).