By Kim Staudinger
Tanja Bruski set the roof on fire this weekend at the Town House Inn Volleyball Invitational Tournament with 15 blocks and 23 kills.
Bruski and her Skylights teammates earned the first place seed after Friday's pool play, only to suffer a disappointing loss to the University of Great Falls Argos on Saturday.
Bruski was filling in at middle blocker for the injured Andrea Knox.
Northern came out strong on Friday with convincing wins over Williston, Regina and Great Falls. The only loss for the Skylights came against MSU-Billings, falling 25-22 in the first game, before they came back and won the second game 25-22. The victories gave the Skylights the first-place slot, edging out Billings by only a few points.
Head coach Lisa Handley says she could not have been happier with how her team played on Friday, but admits to being upset by Saturday's showing.
"Saturday was disappointing. We played so well the entire time on Friday, so to come back on Saturday and not play up to our level was kind of surprising," she said.
Even though getting knocked out of your own tournament is not ideal, Handley says it was a good learning experience for her team.
"We weren't mentally prepared for a team to play like that," she said. "I am glad it happened now at the beginning of the season and not at conference tourneys later. The whole team learned from it. They now know that any team can beat them at any point in time."
The University of Great Falls, perhaps the surprise of the tournament, came out to prove to others it can be competitive, which Handley thinks may have made the difference for her team.
"UGF played extremely well because they had nothing to lose," she said. "We felt the pressure and didn't step it up when we needed to. We played them well the first night, but on Saturday we were waiting for things to happen, instead of making things happen.
"We had everything to lose. They stepped it up and we didn't. We basically failed our first test under pressure as the team to beat."
Handley says her team simply was not prepared for the Argos on Saturday, and her team did not play the type of game she knows it can.
"We made mental errors, we were kind of flat on our feet and we weren't moving the ball real well," she said. "What makes a great team is the ability to overcome those mistakes. I think they thought those guys would give it to us and that we would not have to fight for it."
Even with the loss on Saturday, the Skylights came one step closer to accomplishing a season goal, being a team that is not liked by others.
"We have always been the underdog and for the first time we weren't. We had not been put in that position before," she said. "It is a good learning experience. We just have to learn how to deal with the pressure, a good kind of pressure, that comes with being a team who is hated by others."