The Armory Gymnasium isn’t quite finished being renovated, but the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team is sure taking a liking to the new digs.
On Thursday night, the Skylights improved to a perfect 4-0 in the friendly confines of the Armory after sweeping Montana Tech in st
raight sets. The Skylights captured the pivotal Frontier Conference match by scores of 25-22, 25-18 and 25-21, and for the most part, they did it in quick and dominating fashion.
“All positives tonight,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said afterwards. “We defended our home court, we swept which allows us to be fresh for the quality opponent coming in here tomorrow night and for the most part, I really liked the way we played. It was another great team effort tonight.
“It’s huge to win these ones at home,” Senior Hillary Isleifson, who totaled a match-high 14 kills added. “There are a lot of really tough teams in this conference and we know we’re going to have to go play them on their home court. So winning these conference matches at home is so big for us.”
Big indeed. The Skylights have yet to lose on the shiny new Armory Gymnasium floor and they weren’t about to let Tech spoil that winning streak on Thursday night.
The first set was nip and tuck, at least for a while, but Northern settled in halfway through and took the lead for good at 10-9 on a Victoria Polo kill. Kelsey Williams had back-to-back kills to give the Skylights their largest lead of the set at 21-16, then MSU-N won the last three points, finishing the set with an Abby Nicholas bomb to take a 1-0 lead.
However, Tech is one of the best defensive teams in the conference and the Orediggers weren’t going to so quietly into the night. They stormed out of the gates in the second set, building a commanding 12-7 lead. But Isleifson was just getting warmed up and she sparked a quick 6-1 spurt by the Skylights to get them back in the set. Northern then overtook the Diggers’ 15-14 on a team-up block by Polo and Joni Nagy, and the Skylights cruised home from there, including a Williams smash cross court to finish the set.
“We were down in both the second and third sets,” Huebsch said. “But I was really proud of the kids for maintaining the composure. And when we really needed it, we got some really good swings and I thought our block, which kind of went away for a while, really re-established itself. And once that happened, we really got rolling and that kind of put us over the top. All the girls at the net did a great job with that.
“No one on this team really panics if we get behind,” Isleifson said. “We know what we have to do and once it’s time to get going, we do. I think we did that tonight. We just kept swinging and eventually we got going again.”
The third set was tight throughout, but the match never really was. Neither team led by more than two points in the final game, but with Isleifson and Williams smashing balls, Holly Cartwright and Shayla Bly making great saves and Nicholas, Nagy and Polo coming up with big blocks, Tech really never had a chance, and one last Williams’ kill put the match away for good.
“Tech was exactly what I thought they’d be,” Huebsch said. “They are young and talented and they very good defensively and they really make you work for everything you get. So I’m really proud of our kids for staying patient and staying composed. We served pretty well, I thought Holly, Shayla, Kelsey and all the girls in the back row did a great job with our floor defense and we got our block going. So it was just a really nice, team win against a very scrappy and tough team.”
Northern out-hit the Orediggers 45-34 and the Skylights doubled them up on blocks 12-6. Isleifson’s night included hitting a whopping .400, while Williams added 10 kills and 10 digs. Nagy finished with 21 assists and two blocks, while Nicholas had nine kills, two aces and a block. Bly had a team-high 22 assists to along with 10 digs and Cartwright had a match-high 22 digs. Tech, which also lost to UGF on Wednesday night in four sets, got 10 kills from Korey Krumm and eight by former Big Sandy prep star Shersteen Cline.
And with another dominating home performance in hand, the Skylights (5-1, 11-9) can now turn their attention to the Lewis-Clark State Warriors, who they play tonight at 7 at the Armory. The nationally-ranked Warriors beat the Great Falls Argos in five sets Thursday night in Great Falls.
“Just really proud of the girls for how they played tonight against a tough opponent,” Huebsch said. “And now we have another very good team coming in here. But we accomplished what we needed to, which was to beat Tech, and now we can concentrate on LC (State)."
Perfect at Home
LC State up next
MSU-Northern def. MT. Tech
25-22, 25-18, 25-21
MT – Kills 34 (Korey Krumm 10), Assists 31 (Alison Lunde 31), Aces 2 (Jesse Bowden 1, Sydney Norris 1), Digs 53 (Kimmy Kavran 22), Blocks 6 (Lacey Phelan 2).
MSU-N – Kills 45 (Hillary Isleifson 14, Kelsey Williams 10), Assists 44 (Shayla Bly 22, Joni Nagy 21), Aces 3 (Abby Nicholas 2), Digs 67 (Holly Cartwright 22, Bly 10, Williams 10), Blocks 12 (Nagy 2).