Before this weekend’s final two home matches, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team had some goals in mind. The Skylights wanted to end the home schedule on a high note, they wanted to send their seniors out in style, and they wanted to build some momentum as the regular season is drawing to a close.
Mission accomplished. And then some.
Northern closed out the home portion of its schedule with its most dominating win of the season, a three-set sweep of Westminster College Saturday afternoon at the Armory Gymnasium. And not only did the Skylights drub the Griffins, they kept pace in the Frontier Conference standings, earning a weekend sweep and remaining in a tie for second place.
Saturday’s win was also an emotional one as seniors Hillary Isleifson and Victoria Polo played for the final time in Havre, and they, and the rest of the Skylights couldn’t have scripted a better ending to what has been a magical home run this season. Northern finished the year a sparkling 7-1 in the Armory.
“It’s bitter-sweet because it’s the last time I get to play here,” Isleifson, who totaled 10 kills against the Griffins said. “But it’s really exciting that my last memory hear will be a really good one. This was an awesome way to finish it.
“I couldn’t be happier for our seniors,” added Northern head coach Bill Huebsch. “And for our entire team for that matter. It was a great way to go out, and today will be a memory those seniors will have for the rest of their lives.”
Great memories aside, Northern’s season is by no means over. In fact, the Skylights showed on Saturday that they are just getting going.
Westminster was a team the Skylights hadn’t beaten in a long time, but past history made little difference as Northern trounced the Griffins by scores of 25-14, 25-18 and 25-12. No set was close in a match the Skylights were never behind in, and one in which the score was only tied twice.
“I think the word to summarize today is, efficient,” Huebsch said. “I’m not sure we’ve had that complete of a performance at any point since I’ve been here. Our serve-receive was outstanding, our net play was very good and we played really well defensively behind our block. We served aggressively and we hit our spots, and we attacked really well. I just think it was a very complete performance.”
It was a performance which was impressive from the first serve until the final Westminster error that ended the match. Kelsey Williams came out on fire, with four kills in an early 9-2 run by the Skylights in the first set. A Victoria Polo block and a Williams’ ace upped the score to a commanding 15-4, and the Skylights allowed Westminster to score just 11 points the rest of the way. The first set ended with a Haley Russell
block and Northern never looked back.
“I don’t know if it was senior night or what it was,” Isleifson said. “I can’t honestly say. But it just seemed like we were clicking right away and when we do that, you see what happens. I don’t know, but I think I had a smile on my face the entire match. It was just a lot of fun out there today.”
And the Skylights had plenty of fun in the last two sets. They jumped out to a commanding 10-3 lead in the second set and Westminster never found the answers to the MSU-N attack, with Isleifson and Williams pounding the ball from the outside, with Polo in the middle, or the jump-serving of Joni Nagy, who combined with Williams for all eight of the Skylights’ aces.
MSU-N closed out the second set with a kill by Isleifson and an error by the Griffins, then took full control of the third on two aces by Nagy and some excellent net play by Polo, Russell and Abby Nicholas.
“I just think we were very good in all phases today,” Huebsch said. “Really, all weekend actually. I think we were very steady and it was an excellent all-around effort today. I’m just really happy for this team right now.”
Williams finished with a match-high 11 kills, while Northern totaled 44 kills and hit a superb .398 for the match. Isleifson added 10 kills and 11 of Northern’s 63 digs as the Skylights were just as good defensively as they were on offense. Polo finished an outstanding weekend sweep of Western and Westminster with eight kills, while Nicholas added seven kills and 14 digs. Nagy and Russell also played extremely well in Northern’s final two home matches. Against the Griffins, Nagy added 30 assists to her ace total, while Russell had MSU-N’s two solo blocks. As usual, Holly Cartwright was the catalyst in the back row with a match-high 18 digs.
And after the match, emotions were running high as Northern capped off a great season at home, but also improved to 9-5 in the Frontier Conference and a stellar 15-13 overall. Going into the final weekend of the regular season, the Skylights are still very much alive in the hunt for a Frontier title and a high seed at the conference tournament, which will be played in Butte in two weeks.
“It was a great win for us, especially the way we won,” Huebsch said. “Westminster is a very good team who came in here right behind us in the standings. But our kids did a great job of playing with a lot of emotion. Sometimes senior night can be a great motivator, or it can be a distraction, and our kids came out right from the start and played with emotion and intensity.
“And it feels really good to know we’re playing this well late in the season,” he added. “This is the time when you want to be peaking and these last two home matches, I feel like we accomplished that. I’m just really proud of these girls and really happy for them.”
The Skylights, who remain tied with UGF and Carroll in the Frontier standings, will play their final two matches of regular season on the road. MSU-N visits Rocky Mountain College Thursday night in Billings, than travels to Dickinson State on Saturday.
Skylights are 9-5 in the Frontier; Up Next: at RMC on Thursday
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MSU-Northern def. Westminster
25-14, 25-18, 25-12
WC – Kills 28 (Alyse Horton 8), Assists 26 (Emily Atkinson 25), Aces 3 (3 with on each), Digs 46 (Ashley Marchant 13), Blocks 2.5.
MSU-N – Kills 44 (Kelsey Williams 11, Hillary Isleifson 10, Victoria Polo 8), Assists 39 (Joni Nagy 30), Aces 8 (Williams 4, Nagy 4), Digs 63 (Holly Cartwright 18, Abby Nicholas 14, Isleifson 11, Nagy 11), Blocks 3 (Haley Russell 2).