Havre Daily News Sports Editor
It isn't easy turning a losing streak around. But that is exactly what the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team did this past weekend in road victories over Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College.
The Skylights came into Friday night's match at RMC losers of three straight, including a pair of disappointing home losses to conference front-runner Westminster and UM-Western. In those two matches, MSU-N made a multitude of bad hitting errors that cost it dearly.
All of that changed, however, in the Skylights' hard-fought win over RMC in Billings. MSU-N defeated the Bears by scores of 22-30, 30-25, 30-28 and 30-25.
“Against Rocky, we kind of felt things out a little bit in the first game,” MSU-N head coach Lisa Handley said. “But in the second game, the girls really went out and took charge of the match. We built a big lead, and the game wasn't really as close as the score showed.”
Indeed, after dropping the opening game of the match, the Skylights never trailed the Bears again. Northern went on to win the next three games, earning an all-important road win in the Frontier Conference.
Jordan Fox paced the Skylights offensively with a game-high 16 kills. Teammate Jasmine Mitchell wasn't far behind, registering 15 kills and six blocks. Jeanna McPherson and Tera O'Haire chipped in with 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Fox also aided the Skylights' defensive efforts with 17 of the team's 66 digs.
Northern also cleaned up its mistakes Friday night. The Skylights totaled 70 kills on the night and committed just 24 errors. Those numbers pleased Handley.
“I thought we played a very clean match,” Handley said. “Our serve-receive game was fantastic, and we got a lot of free balls coming over the net.
“And our hitter really took care of the ball,” she added. “They really hit the ball hard on Friday night.”
Rocky was led by Heather MacArthur's team-high 14 kills. Jen Buening was the only other RMC player to hit in double figures with 11 kills. Buening also led the Bear's defense with 18 digs.
With one road win in hand, the Skylights traveled to Helena on Saturday to square off against Carroll College. MSU-N was looking for a rare season sweep of the Saints and they did just that with a four-game win. Northern defeated Carroll by scores of 28-30, 30-26, 34-32 and 30-27.
“We didn't play as cleanly against Carroll as we did against Rocky,” Handley said. “But that is what I really liked about our team this weekend. They never looked like they were going to lose.
“Our serve-receive game was off on Saturday night,” she added. “But our outside hitters really stepped it up and we played really well defensively.”
The Skylights' defense - and the play of Mitchell - may have been the story of the night. MSU-N totaled 97 digs on against Carroll in four games. Mitchell was dominating on both sides of the net. Offensively she totaled 23 of Northern's 70 kills, and defensively she had eight blocks.
“Jasmine really led us against Carroll,” Handley said. “She hit the ball extremely hard and she had her best blocking night of the season.
“Jordan Fox also played great team volleyball all weekend,” Handley added. “And Julie Henderson came up with some key kills against Carroll when we really needed them.”
Fox had an outstanding night in the win over the Saints with 17 kills and 19 digs. Henderson added 12 kills. The Saints were led by Rosie Meyn and Tiffany Rochelle with 12 kills apiece.
While both wins were important to the Skylights, Handley said the win over Carroll was extremely gratifying.
“It is a rare thing to sweep Carroll College,” she said. “It is a credit to how well our girls played on Saturday night. They showed a lot of toughness, and even when things got close they didn't panic. They just played their game.”
The wins over RMC and Carroll pushed Northern into a tie for fourth place with Carroll in the Frontier Conference standings at 4-5. The Skylights also climbed back to the .500 mark with a 9-9 overall record.
The Skylights return home to face Lewis and Clark State on Friday night and Montana Tech on Saturday.
MSU-N def. Rocky Mountain College
22-30, 30-25, 30-28, 30-25
MSU-N - Kills 70 (Jordan Fox 16, Jasmine Mitchell 15, Jeanna McPherson 11, Tera O'Haire 10); Blocks 14.5 (Mitchell 5, O'Haire 4); Digs 66 (Fox 17, Kelly Thorpe 13); Assists 63 (Tracee Tesch 31, Emilee Madsen-Summers 25); Aces 6 (Fox 3).
RMC - Kills 51 (Heather MacArthur 14, Kelly Fox 11); Blocks 10 (Courtney arthurn 2); Digs 59 (Jen Buening 18, Jaque Walen 10); Assists 50 (Hailey Pearce 24, Melissa St. John 22); Aces 8 (Bethany Kost 3, Walen 3).
MSU-N def. Carroll College
28-30, 30-26, 34-32, 30-27
MSU-N - Kills 70 (Jasmine Mitchell 23, Jordan Fox 17, Julie Henderson 12); Blocks 15.5 (Mitchell 8); Digs 97 (Kelly Thorpe 29, Fox 19, Henderson 18); assists 61 (Tracee Tesch 30, Emilee Madsen-Summers 26); Aces 4 (Jeanna McPherson 2).
Carroll College - Kills 60 (Rosie Meyn 12, Tiffany Rochelle 12, Natalie Solomon 11, Laurie Chambers 11); Blocks 8 (Natalie Solomon 5); Digs 81 (Valissa Sneck 33, Meyn 19); assists 60 (Katie Polette 30, Christi Tyrrell 17); Aces 6 (Rochelle 3).