Havre Daily News Sports
It has been a while since fans have gotten to see the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team in the friendly confines of the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. The Skylights haven't played at home since Sept. 17.
Tonight, the Skylights return home to face Westminster College at 7 p.m. Tonight's match is the first of a pair of home matches for the Skylights as they prepare for the stretch run of the 2005 Frontier Conference volleyball season. The Skylights will host the University of Montana-Western Bulldogs on Saturday night.
”This is a big weekend for us, but, because of how even everybody is in the conference this year, every match is a big one,“ said Northern head coach Lisa Handley. ”We just try to focus on improving every match and try not to look ahead.
”But the girls are very motivated and very fired up to play this weekend,“ Handley added. ”Both of these teams are coming in here ranked ahead of us in the regional rankings, so the girls are very motivated.“
Northern hasn't played since Sept. 28 when the team lost a gut-wrenching five-game thriller at conference-leading University of Great Falls. While every match in conference play is tough whether at home or on the road, Handley admits that tonight's match with the Lady Griffins will be a huge test for her team.
”Westminster is a very tough team,“ Handley said. ”They have one of the best teams they have had since they joined the conference.
”And they have been playing well all season. I think that is proven by all of the quality teams they have beaten this year.“
The Lady Griffins are also somewhat of a mystery to the Skylights. Northern has not played Westminster this season, and all Handley really knows of them is what she has seen on film. Still, she said she has seen enough to know that they are a very good volleyball team.
”We know from film that they play very tough defense,“ Handley said. ”And they have two very good outside hitters, one of whom is a Division I transfer. So we expect to have our hands full against them.“
Tonight's matchup will feature four of the top 15 scorers in the league this season. Jordan Fox sits in fourth place in scoring for the Skylights, and Jasmine Mitchell is ninth. Julie Henderson also ranks in the top 15 in scoring.
Westminster's Angie Johnson is also in the top 15 in scoring. Fox is also fourth in the league in total kills this season with 175 and first in service aces with 28.
Still, the Skylights are coming off of a difficult loss that left them with a 2-3 conference record. That puts them in a three-way tie for third place. The Lady Griffins are tied for second in the league standings at 4-1.
”In order for us to have success this weekend, we need to take care of the ball,“ Handley said. ”We are still hitting too many balls into the net and out of bounds. Those are balls we should be putting in play.
”Westminster is a very tough team so we need to keep our mistakes to a minimum in order to play with them.“
Handley may not know a lot about Westminster College heading into tonight's match, but there will be no surprises when the UM-Western Bulldogs come calling on Saturday night. The key to beating the Bulldogs is simple: Slow down Katherine Sunwall. Sunwall is the premier middle hitter in the Frontier Conference and is leading the league in nearly every offensive category. She is the league's top scorer and she is second in hitting percentage. Sunwall is way ahead of the pack in total kills with 302 in 68 games played.
”Katherine Sunwall is a great player and the best middle in our conference,“ Handley said. ”But what makes her so good is that she is great all around the floor. She can pass the ball well and play in the back row. She is just very solid.“
The Skylights have not faced the Bulldogs yet this season either. But Handley knows how tough the Bulldogs are. UM-Western sits tied with Westminster in second place in the conference standings at 4-1. The Bulldogs come into Saturday's match at 12-7 overall.
”The key to beating Western is pretty much the same as it is against Westminster,“ Handley said. ”We need to keep our errors down and just play sound volleyball. We also have to win the serve receive battle, but that is the case in every match.
”Western is a very similar team to us,“ she added. ”They have been playing together for three years and they are just a very solid group.“
Tonight's Frontier Conference match between MSU-Northern and Westminster College will begin at 7 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse in Havre. Saturday night's match with UM-Western is also slated to begin at 7 p.m.