Heading into this weekend’s regular season home finales, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team controlled its own destiny.
The Skylights needed one win, over either Rocky Mountain College or Carroll College in order to lock up at least a sixth-place finish in the Frontier and a winnable first-round matchup at the Frontier Conference Tournament this week in Lewiston, Idaho.
And in both matches at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse, the Skylights played well enough to do so, at times. But in the end, it wasn’t enough as Northern lost to both the No. 19 Battlin’ Bears and the Saints in four games.
“It’s disappointing because we just couldn’t seem to maintain the level of consistency we needed in either match,” MSU-N head coach Bill Huebsch said. "Both matches, we played well early, then we dropped off and you can’t do that against good teams like that.
“That’s been something we’ve been fighting all season long,” he added. “We have just been too up and down, and with having a veteran team this year, I thought we would be able to be more consistent. But it just hasn’t worked out that way for whatever reason.”
In Friday’s loss to the Bears, the Skylights came out like a team wanting to finish off its best season in five years in style. Northern dominated the first set, winning 25-22 behind thunderous kills from Kaylee Bossert, Brittany Baker and Elise Davis, as well as great saves by MSU-N’s back row. And despite dropping set two 25-20, MSU-N still looked sharp against a Bears’ team who likely appears headed for a deep postseason run this year.
But then, just as the Bears were asserting themselves at the net via kills from Jillian Bates and Sara Brunner, the Skylights’ play dropped off. Northern’s hitting percentage plummeted in the third and fourth sets and the Bears went on to dominate the rest of the way, closing the Skylights out by scores of 25-17 and 25-18.
While Bates and Brunner combined for 35 kills against MSU-N, the Skylights got 14 kills, nine digs and three blocks from Bossert. Davis added 10 kills, Holly Cartwright had 13 digs and Jordan Merrill dished out 42 assists to go along with 10 digs.
“We hit really well early on and I thought we did a good job of attacking their (Bears) block,” Huebsch said. “That’s what you have to do to be successful against Rocky. But then our serve-receive broke down, our passing just really dropped off and as a result, we didn’t hit well. It’s all about consistency at this point, and we couldn’t maintain it. It’s pretty much exactly what happened to us against Carroll too.”
Saturday’s senior day match against the Saints was eerily similar to Friday night’s loss to the Bears.
Carroll beat Northern by scores of 25-23, 26-24, 25-18 and 25-17. And just like on Friday night, the first two sets of Saturday’s match were close with Northern playing at a high level. But again, the Skylight's passing and defense dropped off in the final two sets, as did their defense, and the Saints were able to close Northern out going away.
In the loss to Carroll, the Skylights got 15 kills each from Bossert and Baker in what was the final home match of both of their careers. Also in her last home match, Merrill had 38 assists, nine digs and one ace. Carroll got 17 kills from Sammy Priddy, while former Havre Blue Pony Karla Hellegaard totaled four kills and a block in her first match back in Havre.
The two home losses on Saturday, coupled with UGF’s win over the Saints on Thursday pushed the Skylights to seventh in the final conference standings. MSU-N finished 4-10 in league play and 11-13 overall. The seventh-place finish means the Skylights must turn around and face Rocky again on Friday in the opening round of the conference tournament at Lewis-Clark State.
“Consistency will be the determining factor in how we do at the tournament,” Huebsch said. “We know we can play with every team in this league. We’ve taken at least one game off every team in the league except LC (State), so we know what we’re capable of. But we have to play at a high level for an entire match.”
Rocky Mountain def. MSU-Northern
22-25, 25-20, 25-17, 25-18
MSU-Northern leaders – Kills 50 (Kaylee Bossert 14, Elise Davis 10), assists 48 (Jordan Merrill 42), aces 3 (Karyssa Bowron 1, Brittany Baker 1, Sierra Diehl 1), digs 62 (Holly Cartwright 13), blocks 6 (Bossert 3).
RMC leaders – Kills 58 (Jillian Bates 19, Sara Brunner 16), assists 53 (Kristin Barot 45), aces 7 (Bates 3), digs 67 (Jamie Elenbaas 15), blocks 11 (Bates 3, Jessica Overstreet 3).
Carroll College def. MSU-Northern
25-23, 24-26, 25-18, 25-17
MSU-Northern leaders — Kills 46 (Kaylee Bossert 15, Brittany Baker 15); assists 44 (Jordan Merrill 38); aces 2 (Kaylee Bossert 1, Jordan Merrill 1); digs 66 (Sheana McInnes 11); blocks 9 (Kaylee Bossert 3).
Carroll College — Kills (55 (Sammy Priddy 17); assists 52 (Caitlin Tocci 26); aces 10 (Natalie Stewart 3); digs 72 (Maureen Frauenholtz 22); blocks 5 (Haylee Otteson 2).