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2018 Skylights Volleyball: Young MSU-N spikers ready to hit the court

 

August 22, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Libero Hannah Amtmann is one of only a handful of returning starters for the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team. The young Skylights scrimmaged Medicine Hat College Tuesday and will open the season Friday and Saturday in Butte.

The Montana State University-Northern Skylights endured some growing pains in head coach Rose Obunaga's first season at the helm of the volleyball program. But a year removed from that inaugural season, the Skylights return for a new season with plenty of optimism and enthusiasm.

In Obunaga's first season, the Skylights went 9-18 overall and just 3-9 in the Frontier Conference. That season also marked the last for several key players, including three-time All-Conference performer Cassie Krueger as well as standout middle Timi Severson. The dynamic duo were certainly Northern's top offensive players, while defensive specialist Kylie Pasieka also graduated.

So as a new season dawns, there's no denying the Skylights will have some fresh faces that need to step up, especially offensively. But that doesn't mean Northern is devoid of veteran leadership, or talent.

"I have really young players," Obunaga said. "I have six new players, so just getting the chemistry together, we are working on that. I am glad we got to scrimmage. Now we can work on some of our weakest points. We are figuring out what we have and what we need to work on."

Star libero Hannah Amtmann (5-4) returns for her junior season, after finishing third in the Frontier Conference in digs a season ago. Amtmann is a three-year starter for the Skylights and will be counted on to anchor Northern's back row, as well as be a vocal leader on the floor.

Northern also returns a pair of veteran setters in sophomore Shania Neubauer (5-9) and junior Hailey Warren (5-8). Neubauer started almost every match for the Skylights a year ago and was fourth in the Frontier in assists, while Warren missed much of the season with an injury. Now however, both will be counted upon to make the Northern offense go.

Defensive specialist Ashley Ponce (5-2) is also back for the Skylights after recording more than 200 digs last season, while sophomore Katia Michelotti (6-2) is MSU-N's key returner at the net. Michelotti was thrust into plenty of playing time last season, and as that season progressed so did she, as she finished the year with 57 kills and 53 blocks.

Around that core group of returnees, Obunaga is building a new nucleus of players, and many young faces will have to play key roles this season. But not all of the new faces in Northern's rotation will be young, as the Skylights welcome in junior outside hitter Brenna Brickey (5-10). Brickey is a transfer for the Montana State Bobcats, and she'll be expected to help the Skylights offensively immediately.

Northern will also count on senior Jessica Curl right away in the middle. Curl (6-3) should already be a familiar name to Northern fans, as she played for the Northern women's basketball team last season. Now, she'll transition to volleyball this fall, and her presence should be felt immediately in MSU-N's blocking schemes.

Transfer setter McKaylie Tanner (5-11) could also impact the rotation, while young players like former Chinook Sugarbeeter Abigail Ellison, middle hitter Jada Sudbrack, middle hitter Jordan O'Connor and outside hitter Emily Gutierrez will be called upon as well.

And if Northern is to compete in the rugged Frontier, the Skylights will certainly need all hands on deck. As always, the Frontier schedule will be tough, but that's also why the Skylights will prepare themselves well with another tough preseason schedule.

"One of the biggest things is just our mental toughness, and I am going to be working on helping them stay a little bit stronger," Obunaga said. "That will make it nice for us to get those three tournaments in. After that, hopefully they don't think of themselves as freshmen anymore. We will have more experience and those tournaments are good because you get to play some good teams and find out where you stand."

MSU-N opens the season this weekend at the Big Sky Challenge in Butte, where Northern will face UC-Merced, Vanguard, Multnomah and College of Idaho. In week two, the Skylights will travel to the always-tough Bellevue College Tournament where they'll see national powers like Peru State, Bellevue and Doane, as well as the University of Jamestown. Northern then returns to Montana to partake in the University of Providence Tournament, where the Skylights will take on Benedictine-Mesa, Medicine Hat College, Mayville State and Providence Christian College.

The tourney in Great Falls will wrap up non-conference play, and the Skylights will open Frontier play against Lewis-Clark State Sept. 14 and Montana Tech Sept. 15 in the Armory Gymnasium. The first month of the conference season continues with a road trip to Providence Sept. 19, a home match against Carroll College Sept. 22 and a road trip to Rocky Mountain College Sept. 29.

October begins with a visit to UM-Western Oct. 6, and a trip to Montana Tech Oct. 18. Northern will play its fourth straight road match at LC State Oct. 20, before returning home to host Providence Oct. 24. A Oct. 26 trip to Carroll wraps up road play for the Skylights, and they'll finish the regular season at home against Rocky Nov. 2 and Western Nov. 3.

Of course, all of that was preceded by Northern's scrimmages against Medicine Hat and Great Falls, which took place Tuesday in the Armory Gymnasium. Now, Northern will get set to play for real, Friday and Saturday at the Big Sky Challenge in Butte.

 

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