Havre Daily News Sports Editor
No more excuses. It's not the referees, the travel, the fatigue that comes with travel, the court, the opponents, the nagging injuries. It's none of that. Montana State University-Northern volleyball coach Lisa Handley is tired of excuses and she isn't taking them any more.
As the Skylights head to Butte today for their first Frontier Conference road trip of the season, Handley has heard all the excuses for her team's lack of success in road matches in the past, and she isn't going to listen to them this season.
"Our girls can't make excuses," she said. "We have the talent and we have the experience. If we play well, we should win both matches. We have to worry about things we can control and not worry about the things we can't. No more excuses, just get it done."
Handley fully expects her team to play well tonight against Montana Tech at 7 p.m. and on Saturday against Lewis-Clark State in Lewiston, Idaho.
"We have to play our game," said junior middle blocker Tera O'Haire. "We can't use the travel, the referees, the opposing crowd as excuses and let them affect the way we play."
Skylight fans got a taste of how the Skylights can play this past weekend, but Handley believes it can be even better. She saw glimpses of her team's vast array of weapons in a five-game loss to Rocky on Friday, and parts of it during Saturday's win over Carroll College.
"We really need to get everybody playing well together at once," Handle said. "We haven't done that yet. If we can get everybody on the same page and playing for the team, we will be very tough to beat."
That doesn't bode well for a Montana Tech team that recently picked up its first win of the season on Saturday against Lewis-Clark State. Still, Handley isn't about to let her team look past the youthful Diggers.
"Tech is a very young team," Handley said. "They don't have the weapons they've had in the past, but they're still very dangerous as LC found out."
The Diggers lost several key players from last year's squad that finished second in the Frontier Conference with a 20-14 overall record and sparkling 11-3 conference record, which qualified them for the regional tournament.
Gone is Frontier Conference most valuable player Colette Phillips to graduation. Phillips averaged more than 20 kills per match last year. Phillips wasn't the only all-conference player who graduated. Middle blocker Janalee Stokken-Holmes was a second-team all-conference pick and was solid at the net for Tech.
Perhaps an even bigger loss was setter Becky Hancock. She was the driving force behind the Diggers' success with her heady play and toughness. Hancock has been replaced by true freshman Lindsey Balfour of Lethbridge, Alberta. It is a tough task for even the most talented of freshmen.
"Tech runs a very fast offense, I'm sure it's a challenge for her," Handley said.
One player whom the Diggers didn't anticipate leaving was outside hitter Marin Audet. A former University of Montana volleyball player, Audet made a splash in the conference two years ago and earning newcomer-of-the-year honors. She earned all-conference honors again last season despite having some severe shoulder problems. Audet had offseason shoulder surgery again, but decided to leave the team just after the season began.
"Not having Marin makes a big difference," Handley said. "She is a great player and was a big weapon for them."
The cupboard isn't completely bare. The Diggers do return all-conference libero Beka Hudson for her senior season.
"Beka is the rock of that team," Handley said. "She plays great defense and is a great leader."
Also back are outside hitter Liz Marsik and defensive specialist Krsytle Spang.
"Tech is still Tech," Handley said. "They are still going to play great defense and scrap and hustle."
One of things that also concerns Handley is the spacious venue Tech plays in. The HPER complex is a massive gym, especially when it is set up for volleyball. It's definitely a different atmosphere.
"It's so spacious and big," Handley said. "It is very different and it messes with their depth perception, but most of the girls have played there before and should be used to it."
After tonight's match, Northern will travel to Lewiston on Friday for Saturday's match with the Warriors.
Lewis-Clark hasn't had much success this season under new head coach Erin Mellinger with a 1-9 record. Handley blames some mitigating circumstances on the situation. Mellinger was hired a few weeks before the season began after last year's coach abruptly resigned. Mellinger has also had to shift from a different facility after problems arose with floor at the new Warrior Arena. Saturday's game will be in Lewiston High School's gym.
"I don't know if she really has got a chance to settle into her system," Handley said. "She got there right before school started and then they've been having to switch gyms all the time."
Handley got to watch the Warriors play earlier this season and admitted they are still very dangerous.
"They're kind of inconsistent," she said. "They can be very good one game and make some mistakes in the other. They're like us at times."
LC has only one senior this season in outside hitter Tyger Spencer. They do return junior middle blocker Marie Lauder from a successful season last year along with sophomore outside hitters Jenna Kirk and Mollie Hornfeldt. Sophomore setter Stephanie Wayt is back after a solid freshman season and is third in the conference with 7.5 assists per game.
While Handley knows her team can only control how it plays, she does believe it can impose its game on its opponents. Even more important is that her team must come out and play well early. The Skylights have a bad habit of spotting teams five- to seven-point leads to start games.
"We have to come out and play better from the start," she said. "We've talked about it all week. We can't give these teams the confidence into thinking they can beat us."
If the first week has proven anything, it's that any loss could have potential ramifications down the road with the league's parity.
"They are all important," Handley said. "Every match has the potential to determine the league winner. So we have to go out and play like that."