Havre Daily News Sports
The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team was in desperate need of some consistency hitting the ball heading into this weekend's home matches with Westminster College and the University of Montana-Western.
What the Skylights got was exactly the opposite as they dropped both matches to fall to 2-5 in Frontier Conference play.
”Hitting errors, plain and simple,“ said MSU-Northern head coach Lisa Handley. ”That sums up what happened to us both nights. We just made too many mistakes hitting the ball, and you are not going to beat good teams when you do that.“
On Friday night the Skylights fell behind Westminster College early and were forced to play catchup the rest of the match. Northern was drubbed by Westminster in the first game 30-19, and then dropped the crucial second game 30-25. Down two games to none, the Skylights rallied to keep the match alive by winning game three 32-20. But in the end, Northern could not overcame the hitting errors and the early deficit as it dropped the fourth and final game of the match, 30-25.
The Skylights had 37 errors to 50 kills in the match and had just two players in double figures in kills. Jasmine Mitchell led the way with 14 kills, and Jordan Fox added 10 kills. Northern's defense was solid throughout the night as it totaled 11 blocks.
Compared with the Skylights' play on offense, Westminster was much more efficient. The Lady Griffins rolled up 65 kills and had four players reach double figures. All-conference candidate Angie Johnson led the effort with 21 kills. Maxi Miller chipped in with 13 kills in the win. On Saturday night, the Skylights looked to rebound from the loss to Westminster with a win over the UM-Western Bulldogs. Instead, Northern got more of the same frustration with hitting errors and disappointing play. Western ended up downing the Skylights in three games by scores of 30-22, 32-20 and 30-25.
Things didn't start out badly for Northern, as the Skylights jumped out to an early lead in game one. Midway through the game, the Skylights' mistakes started to mount and Western capitalized. The Bulldogs went on a 6-0 run that gave them a comfortable lead of 16-10. Northern was able to rally to tie the game at 21-21, but Western's star middle hitter, Katherine Sunwall, was not to be denied. Sunwall had two kills and two blocks in the final eight points of the game, vaulting Western to a one-game-to-none lead.
Northern's best chance for success came in the second game. The Skylights played even with Western throughout the game behind the solid hitting of Jasmine Mitchell and Jeanna McPherson. Twice the Skylights reached game point but could not find a way to put the Bulldogs away, and Western eventually prevailed 32-20.
The Skylights also kept things interesting in the third and final game. The two teams traded points for much of the game, but after Sunwall stuffed a Northern spike at 25-25, the Bulldogs ripped off five straight points to finish the match off.
”Again, we just had too many errors tonight,“ Handley said. ”I thought our defensive effort was good, but we blocked the ball very poorly. It was by far our worst blocking match of the year.“
Hitting errors again plagued the Skylights, as they did Friday night. Northern had 32 kills in three games but also had 24 errors. Mitchell was the only Skylight to reach double figures in kills with 12. Kelly Thorpe paced the Skylights defensively with 11 digs.
The Bulldogs were much more balanced on offense. UM-Western had four players in doubles figures in kills and had a team total of 50. Jenny Finlay led the way with 15 kills and Sunwall added 13. Lindsay Scott led UM-Western with three solo blocks on the night.
”Western did a great job spreading the ball around offensively,“ Handley said. ”That was something that threw us off a little bit. We prepared to stop Katherine Sunwall and they ended up really moving the ball around nicely. They played really well tonight.“
It will be back to the drawing board for the Skylights as they prepare to take to the road this weekend. The answer to their hitting problems is fairly simple, according to Handley.
”We had one goal this week and that was to take care of the ball,“ Handley said. ”We didn't do that at all in either match.
”Now it is up to the girls to come back to practice and work harder to eliminate these errors,“ she added. ”If they want to improve and get better we are going to have to work that much harder at it.“
The Skylights will be back in action Friday night when they travel to Rocky Mountain College in Billings. Northern will visit Carroll College on Saturday night.
Westminster College def. MSU-Northern 30-19, 30-25, 30-32, 30-25
Westminster College (8-10, 4-1) - Kills 65 (Angie Johnson 21, Maxi Miller 13, Fa'alua Lobendahn 12, Celestial Alofipo 10), Blocks 5 (Alofipo 2), Digs 67 (Bree Riet 13), Assists 55 (Monica Shorts 50), Aces 6 (Paige Hunt 3).
MSU-Northern (7-8 2,4) - Kills 50 (Jasmine Mitchell 14, Jordan Fox 10), Blocks 11 (Tera O'Haire 6), Digs 68 (Kelly Thorpe 20, Fox 14, Julie Henderson 12), Assists 46 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 26, Tracee Tesch 14), Aces 6 (Tesch 2, Henderson 2).
University of Montana-Western def. MSU-Northern 30-22, 32-20, 3-25
UM-Western (13-8, 4-2) - Kills 50 (Jenny Finlay 15, Katherine Sunwall 13, Shannon O'Keefe 10, Kendall Bradley 10), Blocks 6 (Lindsay Scott 3, Sunwall 2), Digs 54 (Scott 11, Jeni Ramondelli 10), Assists 46 (Scott 43), Aces 5 (Ramondelli 2).
MSU-Northern (7-9, 2-5) - Kills 32 (Jasmine Mitchell 12, Hope Wirll 7), Blocks 6 (O'Haire 2), Digs 37 (Kelly Thorpe 11), Assists 30 (Emilee Madsen-Summers 17, Tracee Tesch 12), Aces 11 (Tesch 5, Thorpe 3).