It wasn’t the kind of road trip the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team was looking for. In fact, the Skylights’ two-game road stretch this weekend was down-right difficult, especially given how Northern was playing entering the weekend.
But even after losses to UGF on Thursday night and Lewis-Clark State on Saturday afternoon, Northern is still tied for second place in the Frontier Conference and still very much alive on the chase for a Frontier title.
“I am disappointed that we didn’t play as well as we had been playing at home,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. “We knew both matches would be a challenge, but what was disappointing was, we weren’t consistent enough to win either of them. I thought we played really well in stretches against Great Falls, and we had leads in every set, yet we didn’t win any of them. Not to take anything away from UGF because they played really well, but we just had too many ups and downs, and all the things we had been doing so well at home, we didn’t do any of them on the road this weekend. And that was tough, because in this league, you really feel like you need to go out and at least split on the road.”
After falling to the Argos in three sets on Thursday night, Northern trekked to Lewiston, Idaho for a huge rematch with 25th-ranked LC State on Saturday afternoon. The Skylights took down the Warriors in five sets just eight days earlier in Havre, but LCSC got revenge on Saturday. The Warriors took apart Northern in three sets by scores of 25-21, 25-15 and 25-22.
“We just didn’t do many things well, especially in the second set,” Huebsch said. “In that set, we had 15 errors and we only scored 15 points. Those first two sets, not a lot went right for us.”
And even more went wrong for Northern in the second set than just the score. The Skylights lost both Kelsey Williams and Shayla Bly to injury for the remainder of the match, as LCSC dominated the set the rest of the way.
The third set also started rough for MSU-N, as LCSC led 19-6. But Northern showed some mental toughness and grit by going on a 14-2 run to make things close, before the Warriors finally put the Skylights away.
“I was proud of the girls for showing some heart and some character and not giving up on that third set,” Huebsch said.
In the stat clumn, the Warriors had 44 kills to Northern’s 31, while MSU-N outblocked LCSC 6-1 and was almost even in digs. But hitting errors and serving was a key difference. The Warriors had 13 aces, including a run of seven in a row by Niurka Toribio, who finished with eight aces on the night. She also had 11 kills and 12 digs on the night.
Northern got 11 kills by Hillary Isleifson and eight from Abby Nicholas, but the loss of Williams certainly affected the Skylight offense. Nicholas also had three solo blocks, while Holly Cartwright had 16 digs and Joni Nagy had 19 assists.
The back-to-back losses dropped MSU-N to 6-3 in the Frontier and 12-11 overall. Northern enters this Friday night’s home match with UGF tied with Carroll for second place, one game behind the Warriors.
“We’re disappointed in how things went because we know we’re capable of playing better than we did,” Huebsch said. “But we just have to put it behind us and get ready to play Great Falls at home on Friday night. We have to continue to take care of our home court.”
Friday night’s match between the Skylights and Argos will be Breast Cancer Awareness Night at the Armory Gymnasium.
Lewis-Clark def. MSU-Northern
25-21, 25-15, 25-22
MSU-N – Kills 31 (Hillary Isleifson 11), Assists 31 (Joni Nagy 19), Aces 3 (Karyssa Bowron 2), Digs 48 (Holly Cartwright 16), Blocks 6 (Abby Nicholas 2).
LCSC – Kills 44 (Niurka Toribio 11), Assists 42 (Nevena Dragovich 33), Aces 13 (Toribio 8), Digs 49 (Brianne Brown 12), Blocks 1.