Week one was just one match to see how things went. Week two was an endurance test, with six matches in three days. But now the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team is really off and running.
Friday and Saturday, the Skylights will play four matches at the Embry-Riddle Invitational in Daytona Beach, Fla., and all four matches will be against quality NAIA opponents. Friday the Skylights take on the University of Mobile (Ala.) and Ashford University of Iowa. Saturday, Northern has matchups with University of Northwest Ohio and nationally ranked Madonna of Michigan.
“The trip to Florida is going to be a great experience for this team,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said earlier this season. “We will be playing four very good teams. Some of which might be ranked nationally this season. It’s going to be quality competition, and those four matches will certainly make us better in the long run.”
Northern should be well-prepared after last weekend’s Cascade/Frontier Challenge in Spokane. The Skylights went 4-2 on the weekend, including three wins by straight sets. They also took on one of the NAIA’s best in 22nd-ranked Eastern Oregon. The Skylights lost that match 3-1, but played well in defeat.
Northern (4-3) also saw good productivity individually in Spokane, especially from senior hitter Kelsey Williams, who averaged 13 kills per match over six matches. Abby Nicholas was her usual self, racking up kills and digs, while setter Joni Nagy had a solid weekend running the Skylight offense, and Holly Cartwright was a catalyst defensively. Erin Jensen also started to emerge last weekend, and she played well in a backup role through the Skylight’s six matches.
Still, in order to build on last week’s momentum, and to continue preparing for the Frontier Conference opener against nationally-ranked Carroll College, which is just two weeks ago, the Skylights will have to play at a high level against four very good teams in Florida. Madonna will be a true test as it’s ranked 11th in the NAIA Preseason Coaches Poll, which was released earlier this week.
Speaking of the NAIA Poll, Northern’s home-opener against the Fighting Saints will mean the Skylights will have played three nationally ranked squads in the first five weeks of the season, with EOU, Madonna and the Saints, who are ranked No. 25.
Carroll, the defending Frontier champion, is the only Frontier school ranked in the poll. Lewis-Clark State did receive votes. The host of this weekend’s tourney in Daytona Beach, Embry-Riddle, is ranked 11th.
The Skylights face Mobile at 11:30 a.m. M.S.T. and Ashford at 4:30 p.m. Friday. They take on Northwest Ohio at 9 a.m. Saturday and Madonna at 4:30 p.m. later that day. Northern is in Great Falls next week for the UGF/Carroll Tournament.
NAIA Preseason Coaches Volleyball Poll
1 1 Concordia (Calif.) (21) 38-0 622
2 2 Columbia (Mo.) (1) 42-2 597
3 3 Texas at Brownsville 30-2 586
4 4 Biola (Calif.) 31-5 564
5 5 Oklahoma Baptist 35-6 534
6 10 College of Idaho 24-8 501
7 12 Georgetown (Ky.) 36-6 465
8 7 MidAmerica Naz.(Kan.) 29-5 459
9 11 The Master's (Calif.) 27-8 443
10 13 Embry-Riddle (Fla.) 29-6 384
11 15 Madonna (Mich.) 35-9 372
12 17 Bellevue (Neb.) 36-11 369
13 RV Midland (Neb.) 21-11 353
14 23 Park (Mo.) 27-11 338
15 8 Viterbo (Wis.) 37-8 333
16 16 Westmont (Calif.) 25-10 322
T17 14 Indiana Wesleyan 36-4 314
T17 21 Missouri Baptist 34-6 314
19 20 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) 31-14 270
20 18 Cal State San Marcos 30-15 220
21 RV Eastern Oregon 23-7 214
22 RV Point Park (Pa.) 30-10 198
23 RV Northwestern (Iowa) 21-10 192
24 23 Grand View (Iowa) 29-11 187
25 24 Carroll (Mont.) 25-12 164
Others receiving votes: Davenport (Mich.) 130; St. Francis (Ill.) 96; Doane (Neb.) 77; Vanguard (Calif.) 57; Spring Hill (Ala.) 56; Indiana East 55; Southern Oregon 42; Wayland Baptist (Texas) 45; Kansas Wesleyan 27; Dordt (Iowa) 10; Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) 11; Campbellsville (Ky.) 16; Indiana Tech 4; Jamestown (N.D.) 7; Baker (Kan.) 5; College of the Ozarks (Mo.) 4; Bryan (Tenn.) 5.