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Skylights fight back in home finale

Northern spikers play some of their best volleyball of the season against RMC, Western

 

November 5, 2018

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern's Jessica Curl goes up for a kill during Saturday's Frontier Conference match between the Skylights and the UM-Western Bulldogs. The Skylights fought hard against the Bulldogs, forcing the match to a fourth set. Northern also celebrated senior day Saturday, with Curl and McKaylie Tanner being honored before the match. The Skylights take on Providence Thursday at the Frontier Conference Tournament in Butte.

Being a young team, with only two seniors, the Montana State University-Northern volleyball team has had to take small steps in the building process this season.

While the Skylights may not have found a victory in either of their final two Frontier Conference regular season matches this weekend, they did take some bigger than usual steps forward.

Northern fell in straight sets to nationally ranked Rocky Mountain College Friday night, and in four sets to UM-Western Saturday inside the Armory Gymnasium. The losses brought the Skylights to an 0-12 finish in the Frontier's regular season, but they also brought bright spots.

No instance this weekend was brighter than Northern's third set against the Bulldogs on senior day.

Trailing 2-0 in the match, and 15-6 in the set, the Skylights got going. Emily Gutierrez had three straight kills, then, she and Jessica Curl had back-to-back smashes to get the Skylights closer at 18-13. And while Western appeared to be in full control, Northern kept coming, Another Curl kill got the Skylights to within two at 20-18, and a blast by Jordan O'Connor would pull MSU-N even at 21-21. Western regained the lead, but Abigail Ellison tied it up with a kill at 22-22, and two straight kills by O'Connor gave MSU-N the set at 25-23.

Northern wound up losing the match by scores of 25-19, 25-23, 22-25 and 25-22, and while winning a set in volleyball isn't usually a big deal, it was to the young Skylights because it was something they hadn't done in Frontier play this year.

"It was a good sign that we kept coming back when we were behind," MSU-N head coach Rose Obunaga said. "Especially for a young team like we have. It showed that we are growing up, that we are maturing. The way they kept fighting, that was a very positive sign."

The Skylights had plenty of fight in them all weekend. In the first set against Western, Northern battled back from down 15-7, before a late 5-0 run by Western clinched the game.

In the second game, MSU-N again trailed early, but in the middle of the set traded Western point for point with Curl doing damage in the middle and Gutierrez on the outside.

The Skylights also pushed the Bulldogs to the limit in the final set, taking an 18-17 lead on a kill by Ellison, before Western rallied to finish the match.

But winning a set wasn't the only positive step for Northern Saturday. On the stat sheet, the Skylights out-played the Bulldogs in nearly every phase of the match. Northern had a season-high 52 kills, led by 16 from Gutierrez and 11 by Ellison, while Western had 40. MSU-N also had 96 digs, with Hannah Amtmann tallying a match-high 32, while Western had 87. The Skylights also outblocked the Bulldogs 11-8, with three solo blocks from Curl. Fellow senior McKaylie Tanner also had a big match with 24 assists and a block, while Curl and O'Connor finished with seven kills apiece.

The weekend began with the Skylights taking on the Frontier's very best - third-ranked Rocky Mountain College. While Northern was swept by the Battlin Bears, by scores of 25-13, 25-14 and 25-21, there's no question, the Skylights showed not only improvement, but also plenty of heart.

Northern led the first set early on, behind a solo block from Curl. And for a time, the Skylights stayed with the unbeaten Bears. However, RMC used a 6-0 run to turn an 8-6 lead into a 14-6 lead, and with Hailey Copinga on fire, the Bears cruised from there.

Undeterred, the Skylights again took the lead early in game two. Tanner's kill put Northern ahead 4-3 early on, but from there, Rocky raced past the Skylights, and eventually led 15-8, and Northern never recovered.

And yet, even a 2-0 deficit against one of the best teams in the NAIA couldn't keep Northern from battling the Battlin' Bears.

In the third set, Northern took an 8-7 lead on a kill from Gutierrez, and for one of the few times this season, the Skylights ran with that lead. Gutierrez served two aces and Curl followed with a pair of kills, and Northern had built itself 15-9 edge. MSU-N kept the lead all the way until Rocky tied things up at 18-18, but MSU-N fought right back with a kill from Abigail Ellison and an error by Rocky, to go back up 20-18. Rocky responded, however, with a 5-0 run, and was able to put the match away for good, but not before the Skylights mounted an impressive charge.

For the match, Northern hit negative .029, in large part because of Rocky's impressive 15 blocks. However, in the third set, the Skylights hit a solid .154. Gutierrez finished with nine kills and two aces, while Curl had two blocks and Amtmann had 13 digs. Copinga paced the perfect Bears with 15 kills.

Now, Northern will get ready for the this week's Frontier Conference tournament, and while the Skylights while be heavy underdogs against the University of Providence in Butte, Obunaga said their last weekend at home was a very positive one.

"Both days, there were a lot of positives from the girls," Obunaga said. "And another positive is, I think we can still play better. We're still young, we're still learning and growing, and we haven't reached our potential yet. But the girls played very good both days, and there was a lot of positive signs."

Rocky Mountain def. MSU-Northern

25-13, 25-14, 25-21

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

McKaylie Tanner sets a pass during Saturday's senior day match against UM-Western in the Armory Gymnasium.

RMC - Kills 42 (Hailey Copinga 15), Assists 41 (Natalie Hilderman 35), Aces 5 (Ruby Kallenbach 3), Digs 52 (Kallenbach 19), Blocks 15 (Daniella Russell 1).

MSU-N - Kills 20 (Emily Gutierrez 7), Assists 19 (McKaylie Tanner 9), Aces 3 (Gutierrez 2), Digs 39 (Hannah Amtmann 13), Blocks 9 (Jessica Curl 2).

UM-Western def. MSU-Northern

25-19, 25-23, 22-25, 25-22

UM-W - Kills 40 (Kyra Palmer 8), Assists 39 (Talyn Pitcher 19), Aces 6 (Pitcher 2), Digs 87 (Dylan Fowler 28), Blocks 8 (Makenna Livezey 3).

MSU-N - Kills 52 (Emily Gutierrez 16, Abigail Ellison 11), Assists 46 (McKaylie Tanner 24), Aces 3 (3 with one each), Digs 96 (Hannah Amtmann 32), Blocks 11 (Jessica Curl 5).

 

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