It’s still very early in the 2012 NAIA volleyball season, but if how the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team played at this past weekend’s Cascade/Frontier Challenge, the Skylights are progressing nicely.
Northern went 4-1 at the Spokane tournament, which pitted some of the best in the Frontier Conference against teams from Cascade Conference. The Skylights’ 4-1 record tied them with Carroll College, Eastern Oregon and UGF for the best record of the weekend, and not only that, but Skylight head coach Bill Huebsch said his team improved from last weekend’s matches in Great Falls, and that’s what matters most.
“We played very well,” Huebsch said. “We left Great Falls with a not so good taste in our mouth, and we’re dealing with some injury problems. So to go out there, the first time we’ve played in this tournament, and to play as well as we did, I was very proud of our kids for that. We got a total team effort, and it was a good weekend for us.”
The Skylights opened the event with a 3-1 win over Northwest University on Thursday afternoon. MSU-N beat the Eagles by scores of 25-23, 23-25, 25-13 and 25-22 and got 12 kills and three blocks from Abby Nicholas. Joni Nagy added 11 kills and 22 assists while Kelsey Williams had 10 kills, Holly Cartwright had 25 digs and Shayla Bly had 17 assists.
“I was really pleased with the way we played in that match,” Huebsch said. “That was a tough, scrappy, competitive match and we had girls really step up and do a great job. That team (Eagles) gave a lot of other teams from our conference trouble throughout the weekend, so that was a really good win for us.”
Northern followed the win up with a sweep of Corban University on Friday. The Skylights won by scores of 25-22, 25-20 and 25-15. Williams led with kills, while Nagy had nine and 24 assists. Williams also had three blocks and Cartwright added 10 digs.
MSU-N kept rolling on Friday night with a straight set win over Northwest Christian University. MSU-N took care of the Beacons by scores of 25-18, 25-22 and 25-19 and got two aces from Dayna Jensen, 12 kills and three blocks from Nicholas, 21 assists and eight digs from Nagy and 14 assists from Bly.
“We had a lot of different players step up this weekend,” Huebsch said. “Kelsey Williams was consistent all weekend, Dayna Jensen had a great match against Northwest Christian, Shayla Bly came in and did a nice job when we had to change our lineup around after losing Haley Russell and I thought Joni and Abby were just rock steady all weekend. We really got a great team effort all weekend.”
On Saturday morning, the Skylights nearly pulled off a big upset over nationally-ranked Eastern Oregon. Northern took the first set off the Mountaineers 25-18, but then fell in the next three by scores of 25-20, 25-22 and 25-23. In the close loss, the Skylights were again without Hillary Isleifson and Russell, but they banded together to put up a great fight. Nagy had a huge match, totaling 16 kills, 27 digs and 24 assists. Williams added 13 kills and Nicholas racked up 12 kills and five blocks. Bly chipped in with 24 assists and 17 digs.
“We played very well against Eastern and it was a lineup we hadn’t been prepared to use all season,” Huebsch said. “So I’m really proud of the girls for making that adjustment and stepping up in that match. We didn’t get a few breaks to go our way, but I thought we played a great match and I was really pleased.”
The Skylights rebounded from the loss to EOU with a dominating win over Evergreen State on Saturday night. Northern beat the Geoducks by scores of 25-17, 25-13 and 25-18, and got nine kills from Williams and seven aces and 19 assists from Bly in the process.
And with four wins this weekend, the Skylights improved to 5-4 on the young season, but more importantly, Huebsch saw his team make great strides, even through some adversity.
“I think we improved a lot from last weekend,” he said. “And we did it even without some key players. It was really nice to see our kids make the adjustments, and again, everybody who played really stepped up and contributed.
“It was a good weekend for us,” he continued. “We played some quality competition, we played well and we got better. At this point in the season, that’s exactly what we’re looking for.”
The Skylights are on the road again this weekend, heading to a tournament in Las Vegas. Northern will open the Frontier Conference season Sept. 8 against Carroll College in Havre.