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The Montana State University-Northern Skylights volleyball team is back on the road this weekend, and after two disappointing home losses a week ago, MSU-N head coach Lisa Handley is hoping things get turned around in a hurry.
The Skylights dropped Frontier Conference matches at home to Westminster College last Friday, and to University of Montana-Western on Saturday night.
Now the Skylights will travel to Rocky Mountain College on Friday night and Carroll College on Saturday evening.
”This will be a tough road trip for us,“ Handley said. ”Both of the teams we play this weekend will be very tough.“
After the two losses last weekend, the Skylights' record in conference play dipped to 2-5 on the season.
Despite the difficult start to the Frontier Conference season, Handley is more concerned about how her team will play this weekend than what the rest of the schools in the league are doing.
”Right now we need to be concerned with playing our game,“ Handley said. ”We can't worry about what the team across the net is doing.
”We just haven't been playing our style of volleyball,“ she added. ”We need to come out this weekend and be loose and play aggressively.“
Indeed, the Skylights struggled with hitting errors in their last three losses. Handley attributes that to a lack of aggression by her hitters. She also said that in both matches this weekend, her team will need to block the ball better in order to stay with Rocky and Carroll.
Friday's matchup with the Lady Bears in Billings will be a rematch of a five-game thriller that the Skylights fell short in last month in Havre. Since that time, Rocky has been hot and cold, especially in hitting the ball.
”Rocky is a very up-and-down team; they have been a lot like us this season,“ Handley said. ”They are a very good blocking team, and they have a lot of offensive weapons.“
The Bears are 2-4 in conference play, and despite the losing record, the Bears are a dangerous team, especially with middle blockers Kelly Fox and Courtney Arthur. Both players are among the top 15 in the league in blocks this season. Bethany Kost, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, is also a very productive player in the Lady Bears' offensive scheme.
”They (Rocky) are very good up front,“ Handley said. ”They have a lot of talent and ability, and that makes them a very dangerous team - especially when their hitters are on.“
If the Lady Bears are dangerous despite a losing record in conference play, then the Carroll College Fighting Saints should be downright scary. The Saints are 3-3 in conference play this season, despite battling the injury bug. However, as good as the Saints have been this season, one of their three losses came at the hands of MSU-Northern. The Skylights downed the Saints in five games on Sept. 17 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.
Despite the win last month, Handley expects that the Saints will present all sorts of challenges for the Skylights on Saturday night.
”I expect that you will see Carroll start to play a lot better the second half of the season,“ Handley said. ”They are a team that has had some injuries, but now they are healthy again and playing well.“
”They will be very tough to beat on their own floor,“ she added.
While hitting errors have cost the Skylights dearly the last few matches, they have been getting very productive play from Jasmine Mitchell. Mitchell totaled 28 kills in the Skylights' two matches last weekend and her efforts have not gone unnoticed.
”Jasmine has been hitting the ball well lately, and she is hitting it incredibly hard,“ Handley said. ”The nice thing is that she has really emerged as one of the leaders of this team on the floor.
”But for us to have to start finding success again, we need other players to step up,“ she added. ”Julie Henderson is a player that we just have to have play well in order for us to be successful. She needs to go out this weekend and be loose and aggressive.“
Friday's Frontier Conference match between Rocky Mountain College and MSU-Northern in Billings will get under way at 7 p.m. The Skylights' match with Carroll College on Saturday will begin at 7 p.m. in Helena.