By Ryan Divish
The question that lingers in Montana State University-Northern volleyball coach Lisa Handley's mind every time her team takes the court is "Which team will show up?"
Will it be the Skylight team that plays quietly like they're at a funeral and tentatively like they're afraid to make a mistake? Or will it be the Skylight team that plays with the swagger and aggressiveness of an undefeated team?
After a positive weekend that saw the Skylights play more like the latter, Handley hopes that same team shows up when her team faces Montana Tech today in Butte.
"It's completely up to them and how badly they want this," Handley said. "We are definitely in need of a win."
Indeed, the Skylights are currently 1-6 in the Frontier Conference and although they played better last weekend they still dropped their third and fourth consecutive matches. After playing Tech today, the Skylights will travel to Lewiston, ID to take on Lewis-Clark State on Friday. This trip marks the half way point of the conference season and Northern needs some wins to gain momentum going into the conference tournament.
However, getting wins won't be easy. Tech and LC State beat Northern in Havre earlier this season. In those matches, the tentative Skylight team was served off the floor by Tech and overmatched by LC State's quick strike offense.
Much has changed since those matches for Northern. Handley changed the lineup and offense for the Skylights so it will be a different look this time around.
"They are going to see something different," Handley said. "We've finally got our rotations down and I'm very comfortable with our lineup."
While Northern has changed, their opponents have not. Tech will still rely on their aggressive serving and using the tip to take advantage of slow rotating defenses.
"They tip sixty to seventy percent of the time," Handley said. "We've been working on rotation defense because they tip so much. It we're going to beat them we have to stop their tips."
As far as Tech's aggressive serving, Northern must match that aggressiveness in their serve-receive.
Tech is led by the frontcourt of Angela Bausch, Collette Phillips and Janalee Stokken.
The Diggers' setter Becky Hancock will be in the lineup after missing two matches with injury.
Northern will also welcome the return of middle hitter Julie Henderson, who has missed the past few matches with injury.
As if a match with Tech isn't tough enough, the Skylights match with LC State Friday night promises to be just as tough.
The game will take place in what the Warriors call a gym, only smaller.
"That's a hard place to play," Handley said. "The bleachers are right on the floor and its so loud."
Handley has her team working on their blocking for the LC State match. The Warriors run a very fast offense that features a lot of quick sets to hitters Nicole Welfel and Amy Flaig. LC's setter Jennifer Covelli played solidly in the win against Northern and she is the key to making the Warriors' fast offense go.
However, LC State is still very beatable as evidenced by their 10-9 record on the season.
"They're not as strong as they once were," Handley said. "They make mistakes like we do and we have to capitalize on those mistakes."
Northern's match against Montana Tech will start at 4:30 p.m. today.