By Ryan Divish
Playing a winless team is a no-win situation. If you beat them, it's because you're supposed to beat them. And if you lose, well nobody wants to be that first team to lose to a winless team.
Such is the dilemma for the Montana State-Northern volleyball team. The Skylights will take on the winless University of Great Falls Argos in a Frontier conference match tonight at the MSU-N Gymnasium.
UGF is 0-13 on the season, and is still searching for that first win. However, don't expect the Skylights to look past the Argos.
"They're very streaky just like us," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "They can play great at times and they can play not so well at times. We just happened to have pulled out more wins than they have."
Besides, the two teams have a budding rivalry both teams feel that they should never lose to each other which led to some spirited matches since UGF restarted the program last year.
"Our girls have a very big rivalry with Great Falls," Handley said. "I am not worried about them being pumped up and ready to go."
The Skylights are in the midst of their own three match losing streak which included a couple of tough losses at home to Montana Tech and Lewis- Clark State to open the Frontier Conference season. Northern played nowhere near its potential and following Saturday night's loss to Lewis-Clark State, co-captains Hannah Nutting and Tanja Bruski had a players' only meeting.
"We need to start playing with more heart and start showing that we care," Bruski said of what was discussed at the meeting. "We're here for a reason. We're not just here to play volleyball, we're here to win and be competitive."
The match should be just that, competitive. The attitude that exudes from both teams is that they shouldn't lose to the other. Bruski said, nothing would make Great Falls happier than ending their losing streak against Northern.
"They're going to come out with a lot of confidence," Bruski said. "They want to beat us more than any other team in the conference."
The feeling is the same for the Skylights. Handley said practice has been very crisp this week and particularly intense, which has been good since Northern is putting in a new offense.
"We're making some changes," Handley said. "We're going back to a regular 5-1 offense instead of the three middle offense we've been using."
With Bruski still suffering from the effects of an ankle sprain, Northern's blocking isn't quite where Handley wants it to be. The offense switch means that Julie Henderson will now be the only middle blocker.
"She's such a sparkplug for our team," Handley said. "Middle is a hard position to play and she was willing to play it. She's had some great practices playing it."
Handley said the switch will not only bring Henderson's energy to the floor, but also allow other players to play at positions that they are more comfortable with, and more importantly help their blocking as a whole.
"We blocked extremely well against Great Falls when we played them the first time this year," Handley said. "That's what we're going to have to do again. We pretty much live and die by our blocking."
Northern defeated UGF earlier this season 30-28, 30-26, 30-28 at the UM-Western tournament. In that match, the Skylights had 15 blocks as a team but hit only .170. Handley admitted that they were helped in that match by UGF's mistakes.
"A lot of the points that we got were from them and their mistakes," Handley said. "We didn't earn them."
It's a situation that sometimes plagues the Skylights. Northern struggled with its serve-receive and passing in their recent losses. They can't afford to make mistakes that will lead to easy Argo points and even worse, added Argo confidence.
"We can't let down," Handley said. "We have to make sure we're not making too many offensive errors. The more you let them into the game, the more they're going to take. If you give them an inch, they're going to go all the way."
The Northern-UGF match is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Northern gymnasium.