Last month, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team had trouble shutting the door on the UM-Western Bulldogs. So much trouble in fact, that the Skylights nearly watched a 2-0 lead slip away, only to prevail in a five-set marathon in Dillon.
Just four weeks later, the Skylights made sure the story had a much different ending.
On Thursday night at
the Armory Gymnasium, the Skylights walloped the Bulldogs in a quick, three-set sweep to improve to 8-5 in the Frontier Conference. Northern beat Western by scores of 25-20, 25-14 and 25-15.
“We really came together tonight,” said MSU-N senior Victoria Polo, who is playing her final two home matches of her career. “We stayed up for the whole match, we kept up the momentum and we made sure we finished strong in all three sets. We were really excited and pumped up out there tonight.”
Finishing was the key to Thursday night’s success and it’s something the Skylights had been struggling with coming in.
But not against Western.
Northern trailed for a good portion of the first set as the Bulldogs seemed to be clicking early on. But down 15-14, the Skylights went on a 5-0 spurt behind back-to-back kills from senior Hillary Isleifson, then they ran off an 11-1 run to end the first set, as Polo dominated at the net.
“We started a little slow,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. “We had a few unforced errors and we kept things pretty interesting for a while. But what I thought we did really well tonight was finish strong with the leads we had. We didn’t sit back and wait for them to make a mistake and hand us the set. We dictated how all three sets ended and that was nice to see. It was really good to see us be aggressive and keep attacking once when we had leads tonight.”
Once the Skylights took the lead in both the second and third sets, they weren’t just aggressive, they buried the Bulldogs with dominating serves, good blocking and timely hitting.
In the second set, Northern went on an early 6-0 run behind three kills from Kelsey Williams. But it was a 13-1 run, including getting six straight points on Joni Nagy’s powerful jump serve which put Western in a 2-0 hole. Nagy was on fire during the run, as was Williams, Polo and Abby Nicholas, while Haley Russell ended the dominating set with a tip kill.
Western was no match for MSU-N in the third either. And this time, with a 2-0 lead, the Skylights were not about to let the Bulldogs mount a charge. The Skylights took the lead at 5-4 and never relinquished it as Polo came up big in the middle, while Isleifson and Russell finished things off late.
Isleifson led the way with 12 kills and an ace, but Northern had plenty of players filling up the stat sheet. The Skylights had 41 kills to just 20 for the Bulldogs, with Nicholas and Williams each totaling eight and Polo adding seven. Nagy had a big night, passing 31 assists and serving up three aces, while Nicholas led the defense with 12 digs and a block. Polo, Russell and Isleifson added blocks as Northern out-did Western 9-5 at the net. Holly Cartwright also had 10 digs in the win.
“I thought Joni (Nagy) did a really good job of distributing the ball,” Huebsch said. “We didn’t just go to the same people with our sets and that made us a lot tougher to defend tonight. It was a really good, all-around team effort.”
And with that effort, Northern remains in the thick of the Frontier race with one home match left. MSU-N is tied with UGF and Carroll for second in the Frontier, and the Skylights are just two games in back of Lewis-Clark State for first with three matches left in the regular season. Northern is 14-13 overall heading into Saturday’s home finale against Westminster College.
“We were really efficient tonight,” Huebsch said. “We didn’t allow this match to become a long, drawn-out match, so now we can get some rest and get focused on Westminster coming in here on Saturday. That’s going to be a big match.”
A big match indeed, especially for Northern’s three seniors, who will play at home for the very last time in their careers.
“It’s going to be exciting and I’m really pumped for that match,” Polo said. “But it’s also going to be a little sad because it’s the last one. I feel like I just got here and now it’s almost over. But we know it’s a big match and one we need to win, so we’re going to be really pumped and leave it all out there on the floor.”
Northern’s Senior Day match with Westminster will take place Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Armory Gymnasium.
Tough at home
Skylights are now 8-5 in the Frontier. Next: vs Westminster Saturday
MSU-Northern def. UM-Western
25-20, 25-14, 25-15
UM-W – Kills 20 (Emily Erickson 6), Assists 26 (Paige Latimer 20), Aces 3 (Latimer 2), Digs 35 (Shelby Mack 8), Blocks 5 (Charelle Minor 2).
MSU-N – Kills 41 (Hillary Isleifson 12, Kelsey Williams 8, Abby Nicholas 8, Victoria Polo 8), Assists 36 (Joni Nagy 31), Aces 7 (Nagy 3), Digs 42 (Nicholas 12, Holly Cartwright 10), Blocks 9 (Polo, Haley Russel, Nicholas Isleifson 1 each).