The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team is no stranger to five-set matches of late. But on Saturday afternoon, the Skylights came out on the wrong end of the decisive fifth set.
Northern dropped its first match in Frontier Conference play and suffered its first defeat since the last Saturday in August Saturday afternoon in Salt Lake City as the host Griffins defeated the No. 24 Skylights by scores of 18-25, 25-22, 25-28, 17-25 and 15-11. The loss dropped MSU-N to 13-1 in league play, but MSU-N still has a one match lead over Rocky Mountain College in the Frontier standings.
"We didn't start off too badly," Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. "But I just thought Westminster played with a lot more emotion and intensity. They seemed to want it more than we did."
At the onset of Saturday's thriller, it looked as though the Skylights were going to continue their roll. Northern swept UM-Western Thursday night in Dillon, and the Skylights dominated the first set Saturday, thrashing the Griffins 25-18. However, Westminster, which has quietly stayed in the Frontier title hunt this season, changed things up on its way to taking an eventual 2-1 lead in the match.
In the second set, the Griffins turned up their block and their back row defense, which led to the Skylights hitting in dismal .045. Then, in the crucial third set, the Griffins started cooking offensively. They hit .400 in the set and behind the strong play of Alexis Aalona and Myra Ramiriez, they put the Skylights on the ropes.
Northern has been a resilient and poised team all season, and the Skylights fought back quickly in the do-or-die fourth set. The Skylights owned the set from start to finish, forcing a decisive fifth game. However, the Griffins got three straight blocks from Ramirez in the middle of the set, and that helped Westminster open a gap the Skylights couldn't close.
"I think we made too many poor choices offensively," Huebsch said. That, combined with the fact that we didn't defend the net very well, it's a combination that means you're not going to be very successful.
In the rare loss, Kelsey Williams led Northern with 23 kills and 11 digs, while Abby Nicholas had 19 kills and 21 digs. Erin Jensen added nine kills, while Joni Nagy had 56 assists and 14 digs. But the Skylights hit just .184 for the match and got out-blocked by the Griffins.
"We're disappointed with our performance," Huebsch said. "Not to take anything away from them (Griffins) because they played better than we did. But we certainly weren't at our best and that's disappointing. Hopefully we'll learn from this match and be better because of it.
Despite the loss, Northern (22-5) is still in control of its own destiny as far as the Frontier title is concerned. MSU-N can lock up the regular season championship at home this weekend when the Skylights host Dickinson State on Thursday night and second-place Rocky Mountain on Friday night.
Westminster def. Skylights
18-25, 25-22, 25-18, 17-25, 15-11
MSU-N - Kills: 63 (Kelsey Williams 23). Blocks: 9 (Erin Jensen 3). Aces: 2 (Sydney Stolearecius 2). Digs: 89 (Abby Nicholas 22). Assists: 61 (Joni Nagy 56).
WC - Kills: 65 (Alexis Aalona 18). Blocks: 17.5 (Mayra Ramirez 3.5). Aces: 2. Digs: 85 (Kyndall Kordakis 33). Assists: 63 (Emily Atkinson 43).