The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team was hoping for a home sweep this weekend.
But after a difficult Friday night loss at home to Montana Tech, the Skylights were looking to avoid being swept instead.
And that’s just what the Skylights did, playing inspired volleyball in a four-game win over UM-Western Saturday night at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.
After falling to Montana Tech by scores of 28-26, 25-18 and 25-13 on Friday, the Skylights rebounded to take down the Bulldogs 25-12, 19-25, 25-21 and 25-14, snapping a six-match Frontier Conference losing streak in the process.
“I wasn’t sure how we’d play after Friday night,” MSU-N head coach Bill Huebsch said. “I wasn’t sure how we’d respond after being disappointed against Tech. But the kids played really well, they were fired up to start the match and that seemed to carry us through. And I thought we played pretty well overall.”
Northern’s start was critical against UM-Western.
The Skylights romped to a 25-12 victory, getting early contributions from its lineup change. Huebsch inserted outside hitters Tasha Dyrland and Paige Richardson into the starting rotation on Saturday night, and both were key early on Dyrland got several big kills to give MSU-N an early cushion and Richardson put balls away down the side as Northern ripped off a 9-0 run and finished the set outscoring Western 14-6.
“I thought the team responded really well to the changes,” Huebsch said. “We were looking for some more offense on the outside and I feel like we got that out of Paige and Tasha tonight. They played well at the start of the match and we responded to it. So it went well.”
Western responded however, by winning the second set and putting Northern on its heels some. But the Skylights didn’t back down, and seniors Brittany Baker and Kaylee Bossert helped Northern come roaring back halfway through the pivotal third set.
The Bulldogs had grabbed a 13-11 lead in the third, but five kills by Baker and a critical block from Bossert at 24-21 gave Northern back the edge. Richardson finished the set with an emphatic spike, and for the most part, finished off the Bulldogs, as MSU-N cruised in the fourth and final game.
“I thought we were getting a little too predictable by the third set, and we weren’t using our middles enough,” Huebsch said. “So towards the end of that set, we went back to them more, they got some good swings and that started to open things up for the girls on the outside.
“We started playing much better defense at that point too,” he added. “And that got Jordan (Merrill) more chances to run our offense. And she did a really good job of distributing the ball, and those things turned out to be the keys to the match I thought.”
The Skylights’ offense was stellar on Saturday night with four players reaching double digits in kills. Bossert led all players with 18 kills, while adding four solo blocks to her effort. Baker totaled 15 kills, 16 digs and an ace on a great night for her, while Richardson added 14 kills and 16 digs. Dyrland, the former North Star standout chipped in with 10 kills and Elise Davis added nine kills and a solo block. Merrill had a season-high 62 assists.
Western, which is winless in Frontier Conference play, did well to hang with the Skylights, and got nine kills from Susie Rehse in the loss.
“I give credit to Western, they are a much better team than the first time we saw them,” Huebsch said. “And they seemed fired up to play us. But our kids did a good job of matching that intensity, and I’m proud of them for responding to how we played on Friday night.”
And things didn’t go well for Northern on Friday.
The Skylights played solid early on, before falling just short against the Orediggers in game one. However, with only 25 digs on the night and no blocks, the MSU-N defense couldn’t contend with Tech’s Katie Daly and Shersteen Cline, and the Orediggers went on to sweep the Skylights and earn a season split.
“Tech played well against us,” Huebsch said. “But we also played very well in that first game. We were right there, but we just couldn’t finish it. But what was disappointing was, after that, we just went flat, we dwelled on that first game and never got back up.
“Our defense and passing was really not very good against Tech,” he added. “But we were much better in those areas against Western, and it was important to come away with a split. So I’m pleased with the way the girls responded against Western.”
In the loss to Tech, the Skylights got 10 kills from Bossert, while former Havre Blue Pony Holly Cartwright had a team-high 11 digs. Daly paced the Orediggers with 11 kills.
Northern is now 3-6 in league play and 10-9 overall.
The Skylights will be back in action this Friday when they host the University of Great Falls at 7 p.m. at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse.