It’s been a fascinating year of Frontier Conference volleyball. From the rise of the Montana State University-Northern Skylights to national prominence, to the surprise drop by 2012 Frontier champion Carroll College and everything in between, this season has had no shortage of excitement.
But everything that’s happened since the beginning of September is now wiped off the books. Records are out the window and past performances are just that, a thing of the past.
In other words, it’s tournament time, and anything can, and usually does happen in the postseason.
The 2013 Frontier tournament gets underway Thursday at 5 p.m. at UGF’s McLaughlin Center in Great Falls. The play-in match features ninth-place Dickinson State, winless in the Frontier taking on eighth-place UM-Western. The winner of Thursday’s match will play top-seeded MSU-N in the first quarterfinal at 12 p.m. Friday.
The other three quarterfinals Friday will feature No. 5 Carroll taking on No. 4 Westminster at 2 p.m., No. 2 seed Rocky Mountain College facing No. 7 seed Great Falls at 5 p.m. and No. 3 seed Lewis-Clark State battling No. 6 seed Montana Tech at 7 p.m. The winners of the first two quarterfinals will meet in an 11 a.m. semifinal Saturday, while the winners of the second two quarters will play at 1 p.m. Saturday. The single-elimination tournament concludes with the championship match at 7 p.m. Saturday, with the Frontier champion earning the league’s automatic berth to the NAIA national tournament.
Here's a quick look at the Frontier tourney, team-by-team.
MSU-Northern (24-5, 1st): The Skylights’ season has been well documented. From Aug. 26 until Nov. 2 the Skylights didn’t drop a single match. Of the other top seeds in the Frontier tourney, No. 4 Westminster was the only team to beat the Skylights in league play. Northern is led by seniors Abby Nicholas (487) and Kelsey Williams (431) who are 1-2 in the Frontier in total kills. The Skylights are the top offensive team in the Frontier, and were runner’s up at last year’s national tournament. They also hold a No. 24 national ranking coming into this weekend’s tournament.
Rocky Mountain College (21-6, 2nd): The Battlin’ Bears have had a remarkable season, and if it weren’t for Northern’s prowess, they would be the top seed and nationally ranked entering the Frontier tourney. Three Frontier losses is nothing to be ashamed of, and Rocky is by far the most dangerous team at the net with middle-hitters Yang Yang (6-2) and Anna DeWald (6-3). The Bears are tall across the board, too, and they are the third-best blocking team in the nation. If anyone has the best shot at making a run at Northern this weekend, it’s certainly RMC.
Lewis-Clark State (18-12, 3rd): For the first time in forever, the Lewis-Clark State Warriors didn’t win the Frontier’s regular season title. And they also lost two matches on their home floor this season, which is extremely rare. But don’t count LCSC out in Great Falls. With a dominant outside hitter in Niurka Toribio, who has 360 kills on the season, as well as a veteran cast around her. The Warriors should get to the semifinals where a meeting with RMC is likely, and the winner of that match will the have a chance to swipe the national tournament berth.
Westminster (16-13, 4th): The Griffins are probably the best fourth-place team in any NAIA conference entering the postseason. Not only is Westminster the only team to beat MSU-N this season, but the Griffins played well down the stretch, winning five of their last seven matches. The Griffins have dominant stars in Alexis Aalona, who has 336 kills and Myra Ramirez, who has 107 blocks. No doubt, Westminster will prove a tough out this weekend.
Carroll College (17-17, 5th): Ranked in the NAIA Preseason Coaches Poll, the Fighting Saints, who are the defending Frontier champions, stumbled early in conference play. There’s really no reason behind it, either, as Carroll is as tall and talented as any team in the league. Middle-hitter Elli Graff led the Frontier with 134 blocks to go along with 314 kills, while Kathleen Mulligan and Rebecca Sweeney are part of a formidable front row. Carroll has also played better down the stretch, and the Saints could be the dark horse this weekend.
Montana Tech (17-12, 6th): Unlike Carroll, Tech got off to a great start this fall, but down the stretch, the Orediggers fell off. However, because of Tech’s scrappy style of play, the Diggers will cause problems for LCSC in the first round. Tech is a stellar back row team, but the Diggers have also upped their offensive output in 2013, led by 5-9 middle Korey Krumm, who has 268 kills.
Great Falls (9-21, 7th): UGF fans aren’t used to seeing the Argos finish near the bottom of the Frontier, but it’s certainly been a rebuilding season in Great Falls. Head coach Arunas Duda’s team has played well in stretches, but youth has held the Argos back. Still, playing at home, and with a talent like 6-5 middle blocker Rebecca Kershner, the Argos will certainly set out to pull an upset or two on their home floor.
UM-Western (9-22, 8th): The Bulldogs may have only won two conference matches, but there’s no question they are the most improved team in the Frontier, at least in terms of performance and talent. Western has a potent offensive attack, led by junior outside-hitter Emily Erickson, who has 312 kills on the season. And, expect the Bulldogs to give Northern a fight in the quarterfinals, should they get by winless DSU.
Dickinson State (4-26, 9th): Thursday’s play-in match could be the last Frontier match for the Blue Hawks, who will join the North Star Athletic Conference next fall. In two years in the Frontier, DSU hasn’t won a conference match, and even their play-in match against UM-W will be a tall order.