By Ryan Divish
It's funny thing about winning, it makes everything a little better. Practice doesn't seem like a chore, teammates quirks aren't so annoying and the game is fun again.
For the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team everything is a little better following a pair of victories this past weekend over Westminster College and UM-Western.
The Skylights had been in the midst of a seven match losing streak before the consecutive wins, but the losses feel like a distant memory.
"The biggest thing has been their attitude," said head coach Lisa Handley. "They want to be in the gym, they want to be at practice and they want to be coached."
The Skylights will look to parlay that optimism and confidence to the court as they face the Carroll College Fighting Saints today in Helena and the Rocky Moutain College Battlin Bears on Saturday in the final matches of the season.
Carroll, 18-12 on the season and 10-2 in the conference, received a bit of help when the Skylights offed conference-leading Western. The Saints can now win the regular season Frontier Conference title if they win both games this weekend and Western falls.
Northern isn't about to have a letdown following the wins. Instead the Skylights want to continue to build momentum for next weekend's Frontier Conference tournament in Butte.
"It's been a long time since Northern's beat Carroll," Handley said. "The girls know it and it's definitely motivating."
Carroll, who was picked to win the conference in the preseason, is led by junior outside hitter Mary Lester.
"Mary Lester is as tough as they come," Handley said. "We're going to try and block her right away and maybe get in her head."
Lester leads Carroll in kills, digs and aces. But she also has solid people around her inlcuding outside hitter Lena Mortenson and setter Natalie Conroy.
Northern is coming off a season best 16 aces against Western. That trend needs to continue for the Skylights to have success.
"We need to serve tough because it won't allow Carroll to get in their offense," Handley said.
There certainly won't be any need for motivation when the Skylights travel to Billings on Saturday. The budding rivalry between Northern and Rocky could blossom with this final match. Twice this year the Skylights have gone five games with Rocky and both times they came up short.
Revenge might be a bit of an understatement.
"The girls will definitely be ready for Rocky," Handley said. "Losing two five game matches is tough, but even tougher losing to them."
Rocky, 16-7 overall and 7-5 in conference, will be playing for conference tournament seeding position. The Bears are battling with Montana Tech for the third seed in the tournament.
Rocky is led by senior middle blocker Libby Torma and sophomore outside hitter Tiffani Bauer. Torma is a fine all-around athlete that has caused Northern problems in the past.
Northern is led by conference players of the week Sarah Bruce and Hannah Nutting along with senior Tamecia Watkins.
"They're going into this weekend with a ton of confidence," Handley said. "They're excited to play volleyball and the atmosphere is so positive right now. The main thing is keeping them hungry for winning."