By Lisa Handley
After a tough weekend last week, the Montana State University-Northern Skylights had an opportunity to prove its ability at the Rocky Tournament in Billings, where the Skylights would face newly formed rival MSU-Billings in the first match.
The Skylights came out ready to play early and forced Billings out of its system in the first game, winning 30-24.
In the second game, however, Billings put on the pressure and dug up everything the Skylights could throw at them, returning those digs with hard-hitting, fast-paced shots.
The Skylights' defense played extremely well, digging up 94 balls in the four games an average of 23.5 digs per game. The Skylights also passed tough, but had a hard time putting the ball away.
Laura Munson and Lyndi Hostetter did a nice job at the net, putting 31 balls down between them. Munson hit an excellent .343 and Hostetter hit .200. But as for the team, the Skylights only hit .149 one of the lowest hitting percentages for the year.
Following the loss to MSU-Billings, the Skylights played a tenacious Black Hills State team.
Led by Munson's 16 kills and .566 hitting percentage and Tanja Bruski's 14 kills and .333 kill efficiency, the Skylights fought a tough battle against an experienced Black Hills State team.
The Skylights hit the ball better, backed by setter Gabrielle Chambliss' smarter setting decisions, leading the team to a .247 hitting game.
Northern's defense was tough once again, led by freshman outside hitter Stephanie Lanfear's 21 digs and Hostetter's 20 digs. But, in a close match such as this one, a low serve receive hurt the Skylights. The Skylights had 14 serve receive errors.
Northern had to come back on Saturday morning, after a disappointing Friday night, and play Frontier Conference foes Montana Tech.
The Skylights came ready to play, knowing it was going up against probably the toughest serving team in the conference.
Focusing mainly on serve receive, Northern only allowed Tech to score five aces. In return, the Skylights served very tough and scored ten aces of its own.
Bruski sparked the Skylights by stuffing back six blocks and Chambliss and Lanfear dug the lights out of them.
"I was extremely pleased with how we played against Tech," head coach Lisa Handley said. "We know Tech is a great defensive team and they never say die, but we kept pushing and smashing our way through to a three game sweep."
With a little help from above and other teams, the Skylights found themselves in a position to fight for third place. Three teams Tech, Black Hills State and Northern tied coming out of pool play matches, with each team beating each other.
Since the Skylights had won five games, Black Hills State four and Tech winning three, Northern was ranked second coming out of pool play. This forced the Skylights to play the second place team from the other pool, to fight for a third place finish.
After the University of Mary defeated the battling Bears to take the number two position, the Skylights capped off the weekend with one of its best matches of the season.
The Skylights hit an incredible .301 as a team, led by Lanfear's 14 kills, Munson's 11 kills and Bruski's 10 kills.
The defense was amazing to watch as the Skylights picked up everything. Hostetter had a whopping 25 digs in four games, and Munson did unbelievable damage at the net, blocking down seven stuff blocks back at a talented University of Mary team.
The Skylights are in action Thursday at Salt Lake City against Westminster and in Lewiston, Idaho, on Saturday to face nationally ranked Lewis and Clark College.