The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team has already recorded several big, or upset wins this season. But still on the outside looking in when it comes to polls and rankings, the Skylights may have just caused a huge blip on the radar.
On Saturday night, the Skylights earned another impressive win on the Armory gymnasium floor. Hosting the league leading, No. 24 LC State Warriors, the Skylights were able battle their way to a slim win in five games, winning by scores of 19-25, 25-23, 35-20, 14-25, and 15-13.
The Skylights remain undefeated at home and improve to 6-1 in conference play and 12-9 overall. The Warriors are now 6-1 in league play and 9-6 overall.
“It was back and forth there for a while,” MSU-Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. “But I am just really proud of this team. They defended their home floor again, they beat a ranked opponent, and now they are tied for first in the conference. There are a lot of firsts happening for these girls this year, and this was a statement win. We are a team that can play with anybody in our conference, and we are a team that should be considered one of the upper teams.”
It was touch and go there for a while, but when it mattered the most, the Skylights stepped up.
The Match was tied at two games apiece, with the Warriors winning sets one and four, and Skylights winning sets two and three. The Warriors handled the Skylights relatively easily in game four, winning 25-14, but Northern never panicked, and actually got stronger as the fifth set progressed. LC State took an early 5-2 lead, pounding the ball at the Skylight defenders and really pouring on similar attack they used to find wins earlier in the night. But after Abby Nicholas sparked the Skylights with kill of her own, the Skylights went on an 8-4 run to take a 10-9 lead.
From there, the match could have gone either way.
The set was tied 10-10 and 11-11 before the Skylights led 14-11 with the help of a Nicholas/Hillary Isleifson block and a Warriors hitting error. But after a run by the Warriors, the Lights lead was trimmed to 14-13. With the Skylights on the serve receive, and fighting for their lives, an unlikely play from Joni Nagy resulted in the game winning point. After a long volley, both teams were on the attack, pushing both defenses on their heels, and instead of the Skylights setting to outside for a kill attempt, a stumbling Nagy simply set the ball over the middle of the net.
The gym erupted as the ball fell to the floor in the middle of several diving Warriros.
“We just had to stay calm and play our own game,” Nagy said. “We couldn’t bow down to their strong hitting, and we knew they had everything to lose we had nothing to lose. And I know we were on our heels waiting for the attack, and so were they, and I just felt myself falling backwards and didn’t want to mess up the set. I didn’t want to try to push the set all the way out, but when it hit the floor I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t believe I just did that and had to literally catch my breath.”
This was a statement win for the Skylights, and while it could be a longer streak, this is the first time the Skylights have beaten the Warriors since coach Huebsch took over.
The rest of the match, the Skylights played well, but had their share of ups and downs. In game one, the Warriors just came out too hot for Northern to
handle. The Warriros playd fast and hard, the Skylights struggled at the net because of that. Over games two and three, the Skylights net play improved immensely, and the scores showed that very well according to Huebsch.
“There was a stretch in there,” Huebsch said. “Where they (the Warriors) just couldn’t get a ball across, and we just dominated. And that made it easy for our back row to pick things up because their hitters got frustrated and started to hit some junk shots. We did a great job of picking those up, countering and attacking.”
Kelsey Williams, Nicholas, Isleifson and Nagy really shined during sets two and three, including a game winning push in set two similar to the one that won game five. Nicholas ended game three with a dominating kill, proving the Northern hitters were also a threat.
Game four was not a bright spot for the Skylights. The Warriors grabbed all momentum and rolled over the Skylights with a style similar to that seen in game one. Northern didn’t help its cause with mistakes and errors. MSU-N had six kills in game four and eight errors, while the Warriors had 14 kills and just four errors in game four.
“Unfortunately you see that happen a lot,” Huebsch said. “You have a lot of momentum and adrenaline and you go out and fall flat on your face after leading 2-1. We have to give LC a lot of credit because they came out and it was do or die for them, and they went to a whole other level and played very well.”
On the match, Northern had 57 kills, compared to LC State’s 66. Nagy led the Skylights with 14 and Isleifson pitched in 13. Nagy also led with 24 of the teams 52 assists and had Northern’s only ace. Holly Cartwright had her hands full all night long, but still managed to grabe 24 of the teams 82 digs. Nicholas led with four blocks.
Thursday the Skylights will be back in action as they visit the University of Great falls. Northern will also play on Saturday, as they pay a visit to Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho.
Shocking the Warriors
MSU-Northern def. Lewis-Clark State
19-25, 25-23, 35-20, 14-25, and 15-13.
LC State – Kills 66 (Niurka Toribio 17, Brianne Brown 16, Keisha Luebbert-Kennedy 12, Treneisha Doyle 11); Assists 62 (Nevena Dragovic 30); Aces 6 (Nuevena Dragovic 2); Digs 83 (Kaylee Rector 20, Niurka Toribio 14, Chelsea Shears 14); Blocks 9 (Keisha Luebbert-Kennedy 4)
MSU-Northern – Kills 57 (Joni Nagy 14, Hillary Isleifson 13, Kelsey Williams 10, Victoria Polo 6, Dayna Jensen 5); Assists 52 (Joni Nagi 24, Shayla Bly 22); Aces 1 (Joni Nagy); Digs 82 (Holly Cartwright 24, Joni Nagy 17, Karyssa Bowron 15, Kelsey Williams 11, Shayla Bly 7); Blocks 9 (Abby Nicholas 4, Hillary Isleifson 2.5)