A rousing home win over Carroll College was a big start to the 2013 Frontier Conference volleyball season for the Montana State University-Northern Skylights. But things got much bigger Thursday night in Billings.
The Skylights went into the Fortin Center Thursday night having not won there in seven years. They were also going up against the only Frontier team ranked in this week’s NAIA Coaches Poll, the No. 24 Rocky Mountain College Battlin’ Bears.
However, just as they have seemed to keep doing over the last 12 months, the Skylights took another big leap forward as they soundly swept the Bears Thursday night. Northern beat Rocky by scores of 25-23, 25-17 and 25-21, a dominating win which moved MSU-N to 2-0 in the Frontier.
“All the credit goes to those kids,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. “Rocky is a very good team. They are big and tall and do a lot of things really well. But our kids worked hard all week, and then they went out and executed our game plan perfectly, in a place Northern hasn’t won in a very long time. So I’m just really thrilled for this team and very proud of them.”
Rocky is indeed good, and were on a lengthy home winning streak which dates back almost two years. But the Skylights came out and took an early lead in the first set, and never let go. The set wound up being tight at the end, but Northern never trailed.
“The start was crucial,” Huebsch said. “We came out with a lot of intensity, and we jumped on them. To their (Bears) credit, they rallied late in the set, but we were really clicking offensively and defensively early on.”
Northern kept clicking in the second set, especially behind a run on Holly Cartwright’s serve. Tied at 14-14, the Skylights ripped off five unanswered points and wound up taking a 2-0 lead in the match.
The stunned Bears responded, and had two different four-point leads in the third set. Great defensive plays from Cartwright and freshman Sydney Stolearcius in the back row, as well as timely blocking from sisters Dayna and Erin Jensen wound up letting Northern’s top hitters, Abby Nicholas and Kelsey Williams finish the Bears off in the third.
“We came in knowing we had to serve tough,” Huebsch said. “And we did that. Even with our misses, we were aggressive and we were hitting, or close to hitting our spots. That was critical. And I thought we made some great scrambles in the third set to stay in it. And the last thing that was key was we worked very hard this week on hitting against a bigger block. Rocky is so big and good at the net, but all of that hard work paid off. We didn’t hit our average tonight, but we got timely kills when we needed them.”
On the night, the Skylights totaled 45 kills with Nicholas at 15 and Williams tallying 14. MSU-N served five aces with Williams totaling two, while she also had 14 digs. Nicholas added 14 digs of her own and 2.5 blocks. Cartwright had a team-high 17 digs while Stolearcius added 16 in what was a great defensive effort.
Now, the 12-4 Skylights have beaten two straight Frontier favorites, and Thursday night’s road win was a statement victory over a nationally ranked team, who also happens to be a conference rival. While Huebsch admitted the season is still very young, he said the win at Rocky will serve his team farther down the road.
“In my four trips down here before tonight, we had been swept every time,” Huebsch said. “And I don’t think many teams will come in here and beat them (Bears) this season. Rocky is a very good team and they’re going to be a very good team this entire season. So that’s really a credit to how our kids played tonight and the maturity of this team.
“It was just alot of fun to watch us play the way we played tonight,” he added. “And this win will is huge for us on multiple levels. So I’m just really proud for this group. Tonight was a fun night.”
The Skylights will look to finish the road trip off with a win at Dickinson State Saturday. The match at DSU is set for 2 p.m.
MSU Northern def. Rocky
25-23, 25-17, 25-21
Montana State Northern (2-0, 12-4) — Kills: 45 (Abby Nicholas 15, Kelsey Williams 14). Assists: 45 (Joni Nagy 44). Aces: 5 (Williams 2). Digs: 78 (Holly Cartwright 17, Nicholas 14, Williams 14). Blocks: 4 (Nicholas 2.5).
Rocky Mountain College (1-1, 9-3) — Kills: 32 (Yang Yang 12). Assists: 31 (Tori Bertsch 12). Aces: 1 (Ahlea Billis). Digs: 70 (Billis 15, Jennifer Donaldson 13, Bertsch 12, Brooke Myers 11). Blocks: 6 (Yang 2).