Northern clinches a share of the Frontier title with a sweep of DSU; Huge showdown with RMC tonight
Tonight is a big night for the Montana State University-Northern Skylights. It's a big night because Northern takes on Rocky Mountain College with a chance to claim sole possession for the Frontier Conference championship. And it's a big night because it's senior night in Havre, and the 2013 seniors aren't your ordinary volleyball seniors.
However, before Northern look forward to tonight's match with the Battlin' Bears, the No. 25 Skylights had to remain focused and take care of the struggling Dickinson State Blue Hawks. And that's exactly what they did Thursday night in the Armory Gymnasium. MSU-N dismantled the Blue Hawks by scores of 25-19, 25-14 and 25-8, giving Northern a share of the Frontier's regular season title, something that hasn't happened in 22 years.
"It's one of those things where it's hard to put into words," MSU-N head coach Bill Huebsch said. "It's another first for this team, and it's a big one. To be able to have a Frontier championship is special, and this team just continues to amaze me. They are doing things that haven't been around her for a long time."
Of course, Northern wants an outright Frontier title, and that come tonight with a win over second-place Rocky. But on Thursday night, the Skylights were all business.
And an indication of Northern business-like approach was the third set, where MSU-N jumped to a 12-0 lead on the arm of Kelsey Williams' serve. And when Abby Nicholas reeled off four straight kills, the Skylights had an insurmountable 18-3 lead on the Blue Hawks, who are winless in Frontier play. The night, and perhaps the season could also be summed up on the final point of the night. Despite the fact that a win against DSU was inevitable, Northern's Holly Cartwright made two diving saves, and several other Skylights kept match point alive in a long rally which MSU-N eventually won.
"We didn't start off fast," Huebsch said. "But eventually, I thought both offensively and defensively, we got warmed up. And the set scores indicate that we got better and better as the match went on."
DSU put up and early fight in the first set, but the Skylights eventually broke it open on a 5-0 run with back-to-back kills from Nicholas, as well as smashes by sisters Erin and Dayna Jensen. DSU again kept things close early in the second set, but Nicholas went on a tear, racking up eight kills in the set, while Williams finished it off with a bomb up the right side.
"By the second set, and especially in the last set, I thought we were very solid," Huebsch said. "I thought we served tough, we passed the ball well and our blocking was pretty good tonight. It was a good effort by everybody."
Nicholas led a balanced MSU-N offense with 18 kills, while Erin Jensen had 11 kills and Dayna totaled nine. Williams added 10 kills, two aces and 13 digs for a fine all-around match, while Holly Cartwright paced the Northern back row with a match-high 15 digs.
With the easy win over the Blue Hawks, Northern improved to an astounding 14-1 in the Frontier and 23-5 overall, ahead of tonight's huge showdown with the Bears.
"It's going to be a great match," Huebsch said. "We want sole possession of the title and that No. 1 seed, and they (Bears) want their share. It's going to be two really good teams going at it, it's senior night, the conference championship, there's a number of reasons why it's going to be an exciting night."
Tonight's season finale between the Skylights and Bears starts at 7 inside the Armory Gymnasium. If Northern wins, it will be the first outright league title for the volleyball program since 1991.
Northern senior Kelsey Williams, right, smashes a ball during Thursday night's match in Havre.
Skylights are 14-1 in the Frontier, 23-5 overall; Next Up: Vs RMC tonight
Skylights def. Dickinson State
25-19, 25-14, 25-8
DSU – Kills 22 (Melissa Avila 5), Assists 20 (Kelly O'Connor 16), Aces 1 (Justine Braunagel), Digs 46 (Natasha Malana 13), Blocks 1.
MSU-N – Kills 56 (Abby Nicholas 18, Erin Jensen 11, Kelsey William 10), Assists 50 (Joni Nagy 46), Aces 4 (Williams 2), Digs 56 (Holly Cartwright 15, Williams 13, Sydney Stolearcius 10), Blocks 2.