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Skylights play well in Great Falls

Season debuts are never easy and nothing is guaranteed.

But Montana State University-Northern head volleyball coach Bill Huebsch was pretty pleased with how his Skylights began the 2012 season.

Northern went 1-3 against top-notch NAIA competition at the season-opening Carroll-UGF Tournament Friday and Saturday in Great Falls.

"Overall, I'm not disappointed," Huebsch said. "We played four quality opponents and for much of the weekend, we played really well for this early in the season.

"We made some mistakes, but that's going to happen this early," he added. "We've got a lot of new faces and we're still working things out. But overall, we were very competitive against some really good teams, and that's the most important thing right now. We just want to make sure we keep getting better and if we can do that against quality opponents, we're going to be much better off when conference play begins."

Huebsch was especially happy with how his team played on Friday.

The Skylights opened the year by downing Goshen of Indiana by scores of 25-13, 25-20 and 25-17. Kelsey Williams had nine kills, Joni Nagy had three aces and 24 assists and Victoria Polo and Abby Nicholas each had four blocks.

And though the Skylights then fell to Doane of Nebraska by scores of 24-26, 25-20, 22-25 and 22-25, Huebsch said it was some of the best volleyball his team has played in his four seasons at Northern. Against Doane, Nagy had three aces and 35 assists, Nicholas had 14 kills, Holly Cartwright had 11 digs and Williams added 10.

"I was really pleased with how we played on Friday," Huebsch said. "We came out right away and played at a high level. The kids were ready to go. Against Goshen, we were really clicking.

"Then, against Doane, which is a very good team, I thought we played well, and then we played really well at times. We were right there in every set and in actuality, I thought we played our best volleyball of the weekend in that match. That match was a lot of fun to watch and both teams played at a really high level."

The only down moment for the Skylights came on Saturday morning. They lost a nonconference match to UGF by scores of 22-25, 25-234, 23-25 and 17-25. Northern lost Hillary Isleifson to injury in the match, while Nicholas had 13 kills and Nagy piled up 35 assists. Nicholas and Polo each had three blocks and Cartwright had 14 digs.

And it wasn't the loss that bothered Huebsch, but more how the Skylights appeared on the floor, looking not as intense as they did the day before.

"It just felt like Great Falls was more into it than we were. We still played well at times, but overall, I didn't feel like we were as intense or aggressive in that match and I felt like it was kind of a step back from how we played on Friday," Huebsch said.

The Skylights then closed out the tournament with a three-set loss to the No. 2 team in the NAIA, Concordia-Irivine. Irvine won by scores of 25-13, 25-16 and 25-20. Williams and Nicholas each had nine kills for Northern, while Nagy had 17 assists and Cartwright totaled 10 digs.

"Concordia is on another level right now," Huebsch said. "They are just a very good team, a team who played in the national championship match last year. I felt like we got better as the match went on though, so I was happy we were able to be competitive with them. Playing them will certainly make us better.

"Again, I feel like we accomplished a lot this weekend," Huebsch added. "We were very competitive with four really solid teams and I think for most of the weekend, we played pretty well. So we'll use all of this as a positive, we saw where we're at right now and well continue to keep improving.

The Skylights are back on the road Thursday-Saturday at the Cascade/Frontier Challenge in Spokane, Wash.


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