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Young Skylights make strides in Frontier openers


September 17, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Emily Gutierrez tips a ball during Saturday's Frontier Conference match against Montana Tech at the Armory Gymnasium. The Skylights fell to the Orediggers, as well as Lewis-Clark State Friday night.

The Montana State University-Northern Skylights have played plenty of top NAIA teams during the non-conference portion of their 2018 volleyball schedule. But Frontier Conference play brings a whole other level of intensity, and the young Skylights found that out this weekend.

Northern opened Frontier play with a pair of home matches, and neither were easy, as the Skylights fell in three games to Lewis-Clark State Friday night, and in three straight to nationally ranked Montana Tech Saturday night.

"We're playing a lot of freshmen right now," Northern head coach Rose Obunaga said. "And we're really building for the future. So you expect them to have some early-season jitters, and some of that hasn't gone away yet. But I also thought the girls really stepped up in these two matches, and overall, played much better than we played in the three tournaments we went to."

The Skylights may have had jitters, not just because they're young, but because they were also playing in the Armory Gymnasium for the first time this season. And in a 25-16, 25-20, 25-16 loss to LC State Friday night, some of those jitters and inexperience showed up.

The Warriors dominated the stat sheet, racking up 42 kills to just 24 for Northern. LCSC also served eight aces and had 39 digs to just 27 for the Skylights, who were led by Emily Gutierrez, who had seven kills and a block. Jordan O'Connor added seven kills, while Mckaylie Tanner had 22 assists.

And if Friday's home-opener wasn't tough enough, the Skylights had to turn around and play defending Frontier champion, and 23rd-ranked Montana Tech in a homecoming match Saturday night. And the Orediggers showed why they're the favorite to repeat as Frontier champions, as they dispatched the Skylights by scores of 25-20, 25-19 and 25-16.

But, while MSU-N was swept for the second straight night, the Skylights didn't make it easy on the Diggers. Northern stayed close with Tech for much of the first set, as Gutierrez and Jessica Curl were assertive at the net. MSU-N also got great blocking in the set from Katia Michellotti and others, but a 5-0 run midway through the game, as a 6-0 run late by the Orediggers was all they needed to hold off Northern.

The Skylights would also battle in the next two sets, especially behind some tough serving. Gutierrez also had a strong showing on the outside, finishing the match with eight kills, but it wasn't enough to stay with the powerful Orediggers. Tanner finished the match with 18 assists, while Butte native Hannah Amtmann had 15 digs.

"You look at the two teams we played this weekend, and they are full of juniors and seniors," Obunaga said. "And we're young and we're still trying to gel as a team right now. But I thought we made a lot of good progress in these two matches. I thought the ladies stepped up and played much better."

With the losses, Northern fell to 0-2 in the Frontier, and 1-13 overall.

The Skylights will be back at home this Saturday when they host Carroll College. Before that, Northern goes on the road to face the University of Providence Wednesday night in Great Falls.

LC State def. MSU-Northern

25-16, 25-20, 25-16

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

The Skylights celebrate a kill during Saturday night's match against Tech.

MSU-N - Kills 24 (E. Gutierrez 7, J. O'Connor 7), Assists 24 (M. Tanner 22), Aces 2 (J. Curl 1, H. Amtmann 1), Digs 27 (A. Ellison 5), Blocks 4 (Guiterrez 1, Curl 1).

LCSC - Kills 42 (R. Gregg 13), Assists 39 (L. West 33), Aces 8 (West 3), Digs 39 (G. Brown 11), Blocks 3 (O. Jarvis 1).

Montana Tech def. MSU-Northern

25-20, 25-19, 25-16

MSU-N - Kills 24 (E. Gutierrez 8), Assists 23 (M. Tanner 18), Aces 3 (Three with one each), Digs 38 (H. Amtmann 15), Blocks 3.

MT - Kills 38 (H. Thompson 12), Assists 38 (H. Liss 18), Aces 8 (M. Korol 2, R. Hadley 2, N. Larson 2), Digs 50 (S. Hopcroft 15), Blocks 4 (H. Thompson 1).


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