Havre Daily News Sports Editor
One long road trip is all that stands between the Montana State University-Northern Skylight volleyball team and the postseason. Tonight, the Skylights will be in Salt Lake City to take on Frontier Conference leaders Westminster College in a pivitol conference match.
Northern will have Friday off for travel before wrapping up its regular season in Dillon on Saturday against the University of Montana-Western.
Both matches are key to the seeding in the upcoming Frontier Conference tournament. Westminster (10-2, 14-11) sits atop the conference standings, one win in front of the University of Great Falls. Western (8-4, 18-8) is in third place, a match behind UGF and two back of the Lady Griffins.
Westminster can lock up the league championship with a win over the Skylights tonight. If Northern could upset the Griffins, UGF and Westminster could potentially play for the regular-season title on Saturday.
Regardless of what happens to Western this weekend, it can do no worse than third. The Bulldogs are two matches ahead of fourth-place Montana Tech.
The Skylights' (5-7, 10-11) situation is a little more precarious heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Northern is tied for fifth place with Carroll College, and it does possess the tiebreaker with the Fighting Saints. However, a pair of losses this weekend would make the Skylights the No. 6 seed in the tournament, likely matching them up again with Western.
In order for Northern to improve its position in the league standings, it will have to knock off the Griffins tonight in Salt Lake. That is a task few have done this season, and it was less than a month ago that Westminster easily dispatched the Skylights in four games in Havre.
In that match, Northern's passing was less than perfect, and the Griffins took advantage. The key to turning that around will be the combined efforts of Northern's passing, as well as topping the Griffin hitters. Westminster has one of the top hitters in the league in Angie Johnson. She burned the Skylights for 21 kills in Havre last month. Westminster also has an outstanding blocker in Celestial Alofipo.
The same thing that will work against the Griffins will work against the Bulldogs on Saturday night. In Havre last month, Western crushed the Skylights in three games. Serve-receive was again Northern's nemesis, as was outside hitter Jenny Finlay. With the Skylights keying on Western middle-hitter Kathrine Sunwall, Finlay was freed up and she racked up 19 kills in the easy victory. Still, Sunwall will be a focal point for the Skylights on Saturday night. She leads the conference in kills and hitting percentage and is among the NAIA leaders in both categories.
The Skylights come into tonight's match on another short losing skid. Northern hasn't tasted victory since it beat up on Lewis-Clark State back on Oct. 21. Since that time, the Skylights have dropped a pair of matches to Montana Tech and UGF.
On the positive side, senior Jordan Fox has come alive as of late. Despite the two losses, Fox has led the Skylights all over the floor. She is now among the top five in the league in kills and aces and is in the top 10 in digs. Fellow senior Jasmine Mitchell is in the top 10 in kills and blocks.
Northern has also been getting outstanding blocking from former Havre High standout Jeanna McPherson, as well as junior Tera O'Haire. Both players have been contributing to the Skylight offense for several weeks.
Tonight's Frontier Conference match with Westminster will get under way at 7 in Salt Lake. Saturday's match at UM-Western is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.