GREAT FALLS — The ending wasn’t what the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team was hoping for. But the start to the Frontier Conference Tournament was everything the Skylights wanted and more.
Northern breezed into Saturday night’s championship match by crushing UM-Western in the opening round of the tournament Friday afternoon in Great Falls, and Westminster College in Saturday’s semifinals.
The win over Westminster was especially impressive considering the Griffins were the only team to beat Northern during the regular season, and it happened just two weeks ago in Salt Lake City.
But Saturday morning, Northern trampled any hopes the Griffins had of another upset as the Skylights swept Westminster by scores of 25-19, 25-18 and 25-19. In the victory, Northern got 15 kills and a block from Abby Nicholas, while Kelsey Williams had nine kills and 10 digs and Erin Jensen added nine kills and a block. Northern hit an outstanding .291 for the match, didn’t let Westminster’s offense get into any kind of groove, and the Skylights were perfect on serve.
“We played a pretty complete match,” Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. “We served really tough, I thought we blocked well and we didn’t make many errors. We played as about as complete a match as we’ve played against Westminster.”
The Skylights did the same to UM-Western in Friday afternoon’s opening round. Northern swept the Bulldogs by scores of 25-20, 29-27 and 25-20, advancing to Saturday’s semifinal.
The Bulldogs put up a tremendous fight in the second set, but MSU-N was just too powerful for Western. Nicholas had 18 kills and a block, while Williams tallied 17 kills, 19 digs and a block in a fine all-around performance. Haley Russell and Dayna Jensen each had a block as well, while Sydney Stolearcius had two service aces and Holly Cartwright added 13 digs in Northern’s third defeat of the Bulldogs this season.
The wins Friday-Saturday gave MSU-N a remarkable 26 for the season. In Sunday’s final NAIA Coaches Poll, the Skylights moved up two spots to No. 22, achieving their highest national ranking in decades.
Skylights def. Western
25-20, 29-27, 25-20
UM-W - Kills 39 (Breanne Kelley 10, Emily Erickson 8, Brea Mitchell 8); aces 3 (3 with 1); assists 35 (Rachelle Chamberlain 14, Paige Latimer 14); digs 61 (Kendra Mendicino 21); blocks 5 (Mitchell 3).
MSU-N - Kills 50 (Abby Nicholas 18, Kelsey Williams 17); aces 3 Sydney Stolearcius 2); assists: 45 (Joni Nagy 38); digs 60 (Williams 19, Holly Cartwright 13); blocks 7 (Erin Jensen 3).
Skylights def. Westminster
25-19, 25-18, 25-19
WC - Kills: 32 (Alexis Aalona 10). Assists: 29 (Emily Atkinson 26). Aces: 2 (Madison Raines, Katie Vance). Digs: 49 (Kyndall Kordakis 16). Blocks: 9 (Jovana Sisovic 3.5).
MSU-N - Kills: 42 (Abby Nicholas 15). Assists: 38 (Joni Nagy 35). Aces: 2 (Sydney Stolearcius, Holly Cartwright). Digs: 62 (Cartwright 16). Blocks: 6 (Nicolas 1.5, Haley Russell 1.5).