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Skylights start the second half


The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team has had a week of rest, practice and regrouping.

Now the Skylights will get back to work as they embark on the second half of the Frontier Conference season. And with five of those final seven matches away from home, including road trips to UM-Western tonight and Montana Tech on Saturday, things will be especially challenging for a Northern team which was in first place in the three weeks ago, but has since lost four straight matches.

"I think the week off was good," Northern head coach Bill Huebsch said. "We got some rest, we took three straight days off, and it also gave us a chance to get better at some things we weren't doing as well as we would have liked.

"We worked really hard on our mental toughness during the break, we challenged the kids in practice as much as we could," he added. "We've handed a tendency to start really fast in matches this season, but we haven't been able to protect or maintain leads. We need to be better at finishing games and teams off. We worked on cutting down on our mental errors. We've made too many unforced errors and that's really a focus thing. At times, we've made it too easy for our opponents. And we also worked really hard on our blocking and defense. I don't think we've played defense in the front row or back row as well as we're capable of. So those are all things we've tried to improve upon during the break and we'll see if they pay off for us."

The Skylights (3-4, 11-8) will try to make those things pay with two tough road matches this weekend. Northern faces Western tonight in Dillon, a team it beat in four games last month in Havre. The Bulldogs (1-6, 6-12) are a much-improved team this season, and at times, they gave the Skylights trouble back in Havre. They also have and outstanding middle blocker in Susie Rheese, so the Skylights will want that imposing block from the likes of Victoria Polo, Sierra Diehl, Kelsey Williams and Hillary Isleifson tonight.

"Everybody's improved from the start of the season until now," Huebsch said. "And Western is certainly a much better team than they were last year. I think they have some confidence right now and this match is at their place, so we can't overlook them. We expect it to be a tough match."

Despite trouncing Tech in Havre last month, Saturday's match in Butte will also be a difficult one for the Skylights. The Orediggers (0-7, 7-13) are winless in league play and they struggled mightily in the first half of the season. But they got back former Big Sandy star Shersteen Cline from injury a couple of weeks ago, and she is the Diggers' best offensive threat.

"She (Cline) gives them a huge boost offensively," Huebsch said. "I think they will be a much tougher opponent this time around.

"With everybody having seen each other once now, there are no more secrets or unknowns," he added. "I think in the second half of the season, matches come down to execution and who's playing the better volleyball on that night. Everybody we play will also be better the second time around, but that goes for us too. We've improved tremendously from the beginning of the year. For us, we just have to be sharp every night and we have to execute like we're capable of doing."

The Skylights and Bulldogs play at 7 tonight in Dillon. Northern takes on Montana Tech at 2 p.m. Saturday in Butte.


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