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Skylight spikers salvage weekend split

There are two viable reactions from an emotionally draining loss. You can let it eat at your insides, fester in your mind and let it disturb you into playing poorly the next time out.

Or you could do what the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team did. The Skylights took a couple hours to get all the frustrations out, cleaned up a few mistakes and took any remaining anger or hostility out on the Westminster College Griffins Saturday night in a decisive 30-21, 30-22, 30-28 win at the MSU-Northern gymnasium.

The Skylights shook off a gut-wrenching 29-31, 30-17, 30-28, 23-30, 15-4 loss to UM-Western on Friday night and took out their frustrations on the Griffins.

Northern set the tone early in game one and never looked back, not allowing Westminster to even get into the match.

"The girls really came to play on Saturday night," said head coach Lisa Handley. "We brought them in earlier than usual to walk through some of the mistakes we made the night before. We came out and played relaxed and intense. It was fun."

With her usual starters dominating game one, Handley went to her bench in game two, mixing up the lineup and playing some of her young players. While the lineup was different, the results were still the same. The Skylights dominated game two and hung on to win game three to pick up their second conference win of the season.

"I was pleased with the way everyone played," Handley said. "We put in some different lineup and our younger girls, and there wasn't a drop-off in the way we played."

Lindsay Garcia and Tanja Bruski led Northern with eight kills apiece. Kelly Thorpe had 30 assists while Nicole Kruse had 27 digs in the win.

Handley was also pleased with the play of freshman Jeanna McPherson, who finished with seven kills and 2 blocks.

"Jeanna really did a nice job," Handley said. "She hit the ball harder than she has all year."

Still, the win was a little bittersweet for Handley and her team, because they expected to pick up a sweep for the weekend. Northern definitely had its chances on Friday night in the loss to Western.

Northern played inspired volleyball in the opening game, picking up a 31-29 win and appearing to be well on its way toward a win.

However, the Skylights came out flat in game two as their serve-receive and hitting broke down, and Western capitalized as Kasey Smith and Emily Smith started picking up key kills.

The Skylights seemed to have game three firmly in control, holding an 18-10 lead. However, the serving of Kendall Bradley brought the Bulldogs back in the game. Bradley served up four aces and threw a wrench into the Skylights' offense as Western reeled off eight unanswered points.

"We have two rotations where we have three freshmen passing," Handley said. "Western really took advantage of it with their serving. Once our serve-receive broke down, so did our offense."

Western went from down eight to up four at 27-23 on a pair of Kasey Smith kills. Northern fought back to within two on a Mitsu Phillips kill, a Katy Engstrom ace and a big stuff block from Bruski and Tera O'Haire.

But a kill from Katherine Sunwall ended the Skylights' hopes.

In game four, Northern rallied from a four-point deficit to tie the game at 20 on the strength of Garcia's hitting.

With the game tied, the Skylights went to their seniors. Phillips and Bruski combined for six kills down the stretch to secure a 30-22 win, sending the match into the decisive fifth game.

But all of the solid play Northern exhibited to get to game five disappeared once the game started.

The Skylights committed a multitude of errors and never got into any type of rhythm, losing 15-4.

"Right before they went on the floor for game five, I reminded them to take care of the ball," Handley said. "But we did anything but that. We made error after error and you can't do that in a game five. They were pretty upset after the match. They know they had plenty of chances to win it."

Garcia finished with 17 kills to lead Northern while Phillips added 15. Bruski had her typically solid match, finishing a block away from a triple-double with 10 kills, 14 digs and nine blocks.

Northern also had a solid defensive game with Nicole Kruse picking up 33 digs and Emmy Olson getting 30.

"Tanja had a great match for us. She kept us in it for awhile," Handley said. "Lindsay has been absolutely pounding the ball for us. But for Nicole and Emmy to both pick up more than 30 kills is fantastic."

Although she hoped to get a sweep, Handley will gladly take the split on the weekend.

"After the loss to Western, I was glad to see how disappointed they were with losing," Handley said. "That means they expected to win the match and to beat teams like Western. That's different from teams we've had in the past. These girls don't just think they can win, they know they can win and they expect to win. We just have to put it all together."

Northern will continue its Frontier Conference schedule on the road this weekend with stops at Rocky Mountain College and Carroll College.

UM-Western def. MSU-Northern

29-31, 30-17, 30-28, 23-30, 15-4

MSU-Northern - Kills 52 (Lindsay Garcia 17, Mitsu Phillips 15, Bruski 10), Assists 50 (Thorpe 45), Aces 9 (Katy Engstrom 3), Digs 131 (Nicole Kruse 33, Olson 30, Bruski 14). Blocks 10 (Bruski 9; Thorpe 5).

UM-Western - Kills 59 (Emily Smith 16, Kasey Smith 15) Assists 46 (Lindsey Scott 23, E. Smith 23), Aces 11 (Kendall Bradley 4), Digs 70 (Amy Smith 18, E. Smith 14, Bradley 13), Blocks 5 (Katherine Sunwall 3).

MSU-Northern def. Westminster

30-21, 30-22, 30-28

MSU-Northern - Kills 40 (Garcia 8, Bruski 8), Assists 38 (Thorpe 30), Aces 5 (Engstrom 2), Digs 102 (Kruse 27, Thorpe 14, Brandi Snell 12), Blocks 5 (McPherson 2).

Westminster - Kills 27 (Stacie Papanikolas 9), Assists 27 (Samantha Bickmore 22), Aces 2 (Stephanie Smith 1, Kierra Tuttle 1), Digs 28 (Papanikolas 8, Maxi Miller 8), Blocks 17 (Brittany Trabert 6).


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