When a volleyball team gets on a roll, when a team plays at such a high level, there can sometimes be little drama in wins, even in the biggest of rivalries. Such is the case right for the Montana State University-Northern Skylights right now.
The Skylights are playing at such a high level that even an intense rivalry match with the Great Falls Argos Thursday night created very little in the way of drama and suspense. Instead, Northern methodically picked apart UGF on its way to a dominating three-set sweep at the Armory Gymnasium. MSU-N reached the 8-0 mark in Frontier Conference play by beating the Argos by scores of 25-14, 25-16 and 25-13.
Thursday night marked the halfway point in MSU-N’s season, and the Skylights couldn’t have played much better than they did against the Argos. And it was a continuation of a roll the Skylights have been on since late August. Northern has won 10 straight matches dating back to the first weekend in September, and the Skylights still stand alone in first place in the Frontier with eight matches to go.
“I’m really happy for these girls,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. “When we play like we did tonight, it’s a lot of fun to watch. They’ve accomplished so much already this season, and tonight was another step. We played very good volleyball tonight and it was fun to watch.”
Northern expected a bigger fight from the Argos, and the Skylights got it in the early going. UGF jumped out to a quick 6-2 lead in the first set on the strength of several kills by 6-5 outside hitter Becky Kershner. But MSU-N quickly stepped up its blocking, and via a 6-0 run, took the lead for good.
After two kills by Abby Nicholas, the Skylights had run off a 10-1 run and they never looked back. Three straight kills by Kelsey Williams and tips by Haley Russell and Erin Jensen finished off the Argos in the first set, and the blowout was on.
“We started a little slow with our presence at the net, and we dug ourselves a hole,” Huebsch said. “But once we started blocking better, once we had a better presence at the net, everything changed for us. We were able to keep their hitters off balance, and we countered with really good things offensively.
“I thought our hitters played really well tonight,” he continued. “They made smart decisions with the ball tonight. We prepared all week for a very tall and talented UGF team and I just thought we passed well enough, to get into system enough that we were able to take them (Argos) out of what they wanted to do against us. Our hitters played very intelligently tonight.”
And the hits kept coming. In the second set it was Erin Jensen continuing to play well in the middle, while sister Dayna Jensen got going on the outside. By the time the third set rolled around, Northern was hitting at an astronomical pace and UGF was helpless to defend it. The Skylights led 15-3 in the third, and quickly finished things off with two Dayna Jensen aces in the late stages of the match.
As a team, Northern hit .418 and committed just five hitting errors. The Skylights also had seven service aces, and defensively, they out-blocked a much taller Argo team, 7-2.
“Our speed made a big difference tonight,” senior setter Joni Nagy, who had 34 assists, two aces, seven digs and one block, said. “They (Argos) are a very big team, very tall, and we were ready for a tough match tonight. But once we speeded things up, they had trouble getting to those balls, and things really started to take off for us.”
Dayna Jensen had a big night, totaling 13 kills, four aces and seven digs. Williams also stood out with 13 kills, several of which were untouchable smashes that rendered UGF defenders helpless. Abby Nicholas added nine kills and a block, while Erin Jensen was outstanding too. She finished with seven kills and a block, while Holly Cartwright paced the MSU-N defense with nine digs and one ace.
“As well as we played offensively, I thought we did a lot of really good things defensively too,” Huebsch said of Northern holding UGF to just 17 kills and a .133 hitting percentage. “Our blocking got better as the night went on. I thought UGF also got some quality swings tonight, but we kept sending the ball back up. We served really tough and we hit our spots. We just played really well all the way around. It was fun to watch.”
As fun as Thursday night was inside the Armory, and as confident as Northern is right now, the Skylights and Argos will do it all over again next Thursday night. MSU-N starts the second half of the Frontier season with a rematch at UGF and a road trip to Lewis-Clark State next weekend. And as happy as the Skylights are with their win Thursday night, and the position they’re in at the halfway point in the season, they know there’s work to be done.
“We’ve worked really hard,” Nagy said. “We didn’t think tonight would be easy, and we know the rest of our matches won’t be easy either. We know we kind of have a target on our back right now because we haven’t lost yet. So we know teams are going to want to take that from us.
Montana State University-Northern's Kelsey Williams, right, smashes a ball at a UGF blocker during Thursday night's Frontier Conference volleyball match at the Armory Gymnasium. MSU-N swept the Argos.
“But we are playing really well together, and that’s what we have to keep doing,” she added. “All season, we’ve always had someone step up to pick someone up when they’re down. We’ve really played well sticking together and we play for each other and we need to continue that.”
Skylights are 8-0 in the Frontier, 17-4 overall; Up Next: at UGF next Thursday
Skylights def. Great Falls
25-14, 25-16, 25-13
UGF – Kills 29 (Becky Kershner 7, Maddie Wilhelm 7), Assists 27 (Averi Pasma 15), Aces 1 (Devon Bogart 1), Digs 39 (Jacey Habets 9), Blocks 2 (Page Woodward 1).
MSU-N – Kills 46 (Dayna Jensen 13, Kelsey Williams, Abby Nicholas 9), Assists 41 (Joni Nagy 34), Aces 7 D. Jensen 4, Nagy 2), Digs 40 Holly Cartwright 9), Blocks 7 (Nagy 1, Erin Jensen 1, Nicholas 1).