The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team is nine matches into its 2012 season, and already, the Skylights are surging.
But Each week since the Skylights (5-4) opened the season, they’ve also faced fierce competition and their trip to Last Vegas this weekend is no different.
Northern will play five matches in three days at the UGF-Las Vegas Challenge, and in that tournament, the Skylights will face three teams which are either currently ranked in the NAIA Top 25, or were ranked there at the end of last season.
But with the Frontier Conference season now just a week away, Northern head coach Bill Huebsch is glad his team is facing such tough competition. At last weekend’s Cascade-Frontier Challenge in Spokane, MSU-N went 4-1 and had a chance to go undefeated, if not for a close, four-set loss to nationally-ranked Eastern Oregon.
“We faced some good teams in Spokane and the really good things is, not only were we able to win several matches against those teams, but I think we improved in doing so,” Huebsch said. “I felt like we improved dramatically from how we played in Great Falls. And hopefully that continues with this trip to Las Vegas.
The fact that Northern is playing so well is also a testament to the Skylights’ depth. MSU-N lost starter Hillary Isleifson to an injury on the opening weekend in Great Falls, and fellow starter Haley Russell went down in Northern’s third match last week in Spokane.
However, players like Shayla Bly and Dayna Jensen stepped up last weekend and will be called upon to do so again in Las Vegas. The Skylights also got a great, all-around performance from setter Joni Nagy, while Kelsey Williams and Abby Nicholas were stellar at the net.
“I’m really proud of the team for stepping up the way they did,” Heubsch said. “We had to play a rotation we haven’t seen all season and everybody really adjusted well and did a great job. That’s a sign of a mature team when you can make those adjustments on the fly.”
If Northern is going to continue to be successful this weekend, it will be an uphill climb as the Skylight stake on some of the top NAIA teams in the country.
On Friday, the Skylights open the Las Vegas tourney with a tough Lubbock Christian (Texas) squad at 7 p.m. On Saturday, MSU-N takes on Arizona Christian, a team which hasn’t lost yet this season, and that is the start of a tough stretch of volleyball. MSU-N plays Arizona Christian at 12 p.m., then takes on nationally=ranked Cal State San Marcos at 2 p.m. and wraps up its three-match day with Sterling of Kansas at 6. Northern closes out the tourney with a Sunday match nationally-ranked LaSierra of California at 11 a.m.
“We’re going to see some really good teams in Las Vegas,” Huebsch said. “But again, that’s good for us. We just want to keep playing well and keep getting better.”
Northern opens the Frontier Conference season with a home match against Carroll College on Sept. 8.