Rivalry matches don’t get much bigger than the one between the Montana State University-Northern and University of Great Falls volleyball teams.
But when it’s a rematch, just one week after the first meeting, and you throw in a special Dig the Pink Rally night, and it becomes huge.
That’s what fans will be tr
eated to when the Skylights meet the Argos tonight at 7 at the Armory Gymnasium. Tonight’s match will be part of Breast Cancer Awareness Night at Northern.
Northern (6-3, 12-11) is coming off two straight road losses, including a three-set sweep at the hands of the Argos last Thursday night in Great Falls. So the Skylights will be looking to get back on track, as well as protect its perfect home record in tonight’s huge Frontier Conference rivalry showdown.
But as well as the Skylights have played at home this season, they’ll have their hands full tonight, as the Argos (4-5, 13-10) beat Northern by scores of 25-23, 26-24 and 25-21. MSU-N led in all three sets, but UGF stormed back for the sweep.
“In Great Falls we had a chance to win all three sets,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. “But we just couldn’t get that critical putaway when we really needed it. And in that loss at LC State on Saturday, we played pretty well at times, but we weren’t consistent enough to stay with them for an entire set. So in this match, we’re hoping to get back to that level of consistency we were playing at. At this point in the season, we need to be consistent match to match and set to set.”
And not only will MSU-N have to erase that memory of Great Falls tonight, the Skylights will also try to slow down UGF outside hitter Kelsey Van Uden. The 6-3 junior totaled 19 kills in last week’s match and is leading the Frontier with 339 kills on the season. Van Uden has help in the form of Alyssa McEwan, who has 152 kills and 60 blocks on the season, as well as senior setter Kila Adams (5-9), who plays an excellent all-around floor game, and defensive specialist Jenna Prescott, who has 312 digs on the year.
Northern does counter the Argos with some of the top offensive players in the conference, though senior Kelsey Williams, who has 194 kills this season, suffered an injury in a loss at Lewis-Clark State last Saturday. Abby Nicholas continues to be among the Frontier leaders in kills (242) and blocks (73), while Hillary Isleifson has 182 kills and is among the league leaders in hitting percentage.
Defense will also play a key role in tonight’s match if Northern is to be successful. The Skylights got out-blocked at both UGF and LCSC last weekend and they’ll need that solid blocking from Nicholas, Victoria Polo and setter Joni Nagy tonight. Holly Cartwright will also play a key point in serve-receive as she has 331 digs in the season, which is third in the Frontier currently. Serving will be a big factor too. When Northern is on, the Skylights are the top serving team in the Frontier, but last weekend MSU-N didn’t serve as well as they normally do, and Huebsch is hoping that turns around against the Argos.
Emotion will also play a part in tonight’s outcome. It’s always heated when Northern and UGF hook up, but with so much at stake, including Northern’s chase for a Frontier title, as well as an emotionally charged Breast Cancer Awareness crowd, the Skylights hope to ride that wave to victory tonight.
“After last weekend, we really want to come and re-establish ourselves,” Huebsch said. “We want to get back to playing consistently and at a high level. And we’re hoping with a big crowd behind us we can do that.
“We’re past the halfway point in the season, and every match is critical,” he added. “This is a great opportunity for maintain or even improve where we’re at the standings, so we’re really excited for this match.”
Tonight’s match between the Skylights and Argos begins at 7 at the Armory Gymnasium, and everyone is encouraged to wear pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Northern returns to the road next weekend with trips to Montana Tech and Carroll College.