By Ryan Divish
The scoreboard didn't show it, but the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team took a major step forward this past weekend.
The Skylights dropped a pair of tough matches to Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College. More importantly was that Northern made them tough matches. After fighting through a pair of lethargic performances, the Skylights played with an intensity and purpose that made head coach Lisa Handley proud.
"It was like a different team out there," Handley said.
Northern opened up the homecoming festivities on Friday taking on one of the top teams in the conference in Rocky Mountain College. The Skylights took game one 30-22, then dropped games two (20-30) and three (14-30). Unlike earlier in the season, Northern fought back. The Skylights grabbed game four 30-23, forcing a fifth and deciding game. In game five, Rocky edged Northern 15-13.
"It was a great match," Handley said. "Even though we lost, I was happy with the way we competed."
Northern was led by Tamecia Watkins with 16 kills and 13 digs. Tanja Bruski added 10 kills, while Hannah Nutting dished out 41 assists and picked up 10 digs. Rocky was led by Libby Torma and Tiffani Bauer with 14 kills apiece, while Kelsey Williams had a match-high 31 digs.
Despite the emotionally draining loss to Rocky on Friday, Northern came out strong on Saturday night against Carroll. Not at first, though.
The Skylights shook off a 10-3 Carroll burst to open game one, and scratched their way back to tie the game at 24, again at 27 and at 28. But they would never take the lead. A Lena Mortensen kill and a Northern serve-receive error gave Carroll the game.
The Skylights played sluggishly in game two, dropping the game 14-30. But the intensity came back in game three. Northern battled Carroll throughout. The biggest lead by either team was four points. Northern tied the game at 24, but never got any closer. A Krista Heavirland kill and a botched set ended Northern's game three hopes.
The Skylights got 11 kills from Tanja Bruski and nine kills and 18 digs from Tamecia Watkins in the loss. Carroll was led by Mary Lester with 15 kills and 12 digs. Natalie Conroy dished out 38 assists and notched five aces in the match for the Saints.
The Skylights will hit the road as they travel to Montana Tech and Lewis-Clark State College next weekend.