The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team’s Frontier Conference Tournament opener got off a to a rocky start.
But the Skylights made sure their season didn’t end without a fight. Friday night in Lewiston, Idaho, MSU-N’s season did indeed come to an end with a three-game loss to nationally ranked Rocky Mountain College, but Northern showed some grit in its last match of what has been a much-improved season.
Rocky, which wound up getting upset in the semifinals by Carroll College, but still received an at-large bid to the NAIA national tournament, came out firing on all cylinders against the Skylights on Friday night. The Bears dominated the first set 25-8, but then wound up having to fend Northern off to win the next two sets by scores of 25-22 and 26-24.
“Rocky came out and played at an incredibly high level in that first set,” MSU-N head coach Bill Huebsch said. “Their service game was really efficient and we they didn’t give us a chance to get our serve-receive going. We just didn't rise up and meet their high level of play and we dug ourselves too big of a hole to get out of in that first set.
“But I’m really proud of the way the kids responded,” he added. “We played much better in the second and third sets and had chances to win them both and at least extend the match. We made some changes at the end of the first set and the response to it was very good. But in the end, we just didn’t finish. And Rocky did a great job of coming back on us and overcoming how we were playing. They (Bears) played a really good match, and while it was disappointing that we didn’t start off like we were capable of, I’m proud of the kids for hanging in there and giving themselves a chance to win those next two sets.”
In their last match of a season in which Northern achieved plenty and made progress from where the program was at two and three years ago, the Skylights got nine kills from senior Brittany Baker and seven kills and 13 digs from junior Karyssa Bowron. Jordan Merrill led the team in assists and Elise Davis had a pair of blocks. Rocky star hitter Sara Brunner led the way with 13 kills.
The Frontier tourney wound up seeing top-seeded Lewis-Clark State steam roll its way past Carroll for the Frontier championship, while the Skylights’ season ended with an 11-14 overall record. Northern won just seven times in 2009 and only twice in 2008.
“While our season didn’t end up the way we were hoping it would, you have to look at the bigger picture,” Huebsch said. “We had a lot of firsts this year, from our overall record, to sweeping conference matches on the road, to the way we played against everyone in our league, we haven’t done any of those things in a long time in this program. So I certainly hope the kids look at the whole season and understand the progress that we made.
“I don’t in any way consider this season a failure or a disappointment,” he added. “And I know we were much better this year than we were last year.”