Northern spikers hoping to finish strong
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George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor [email protected]
The time is now for the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team. Two final home matches are all that stands between the Skylights and the Frontier Conference Tournament next weekend in Lewiston, Idaho. Tonight at 7, MSU-N will take the floor against last-place UM-Western and on Saturday afternoon, the Skylights will close out the regular season against Montana Tech. The Skylights (2-10, 6-13) come into their final home stand having not won in some time, but they'll be the favorites tonight against a Western team which hasn't won a conference match all season long. Northern beat the Bulldogs in Dillon last month, and in all, Western has won just four matches all season. A win tonight could all but guarantee MSU-N won't have to play the top seed in the first round of the conference tournament next week, but first-year head coach Bill Huebsch and his team wont be taking the Bulldogs lightly. “I think the fact that they (Bulldogs) haven't won this year makes them even more dangerous,” Huebsch said. “They are playing to not go winless in conference this season and we know they are going to give us everything they've got. We expect their very best effort against us.” Hitting has been an issue for the Bulldogs this season. Consistency on offense has seemed to be their achilles heel at times, and when a team hits for a low percentage on a regular basis, it's tough to stay in games. Western only has two hitters in the Top 20 in the conference in hitting percentage. Theresa Bennett leads the team in kills with 148, and Valerie Thoms is next with 74. Conversely, Northern has three hitters inside the Top 15 in the league in hitting. Kaylee Bossert leads the way with 184 kills while Brittany Baker and Taya Tokarsi are also among the league's best on offense. Tasha Dyrland has also given MSU-N good all-around play on offense, while Sierra Diehl has come on as of late in blocking for the Skylights. Northern also played one of its best matches of the season last month in Dillon, and Huebsch is hoping his team can replicate that tonight. “We served really well and we hit our spots against them,” Huebsch said. “But we have to do those things well every night, it doesn't matter who we play. The thing that helped us against Western is that we actually match up well with them. We're not outsized for a change and that makes a big difference. But we know it will be a tough match. We have to serve well, be good in serve-receive and we have to stay in our offense. We do those things well and we should be in good shape.” MSU-N will also have to do those things well on Saturday against a Tech team it lost to in four games last month in Butte. The Orediggers (5-7, 11-14) are in fifth place in the Frontier, but they have the talent to beat anybody in the league and they've shown it this season. “Tech is a much better ball-control type of team,” Huebsch said. And they have some really good players who can really hurt you if you don't do the things that you're capable of. They just have a really nice, all-around team." Tech's good players Huebsch referred to include outside hitter Katie Daly who is second in the Frontier in hitting and has 240 kills on the season. Janet Friesz is another dangerous hitter and former Big Sandy standout Shersteen Cline has given the Orediggers even more firepower this year. Cline is among the league leaders in hitting and kills and had a great allaround match in Tech's win over MSUN in Butte. Tech also has a veteran setter in Jodi Hogart, who is second in the conference in assists. Still, Northern beat Tech in the opening game of its match last month, and the Skylights have shown the ability to play with the league's best this season. “We just need to be consistent,” Huebsch said. “It's what we've been working towards all season. And now it's time to show that we can be consistent. We want to come out and play well in these two matches and build some momentum for the conference tournament. Hopefully, we can accomplish that this weekend.” Tonight's match between MSU-N and UM-Western will begin at 7 at the MSU-Northern Fieldhouse. Saturday's match between the Skylights and Orediggers will get under way at 2 p.m. Before Saturday's match, MSU-N will honor the Skylight parents and adopted parents.