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Skylights digging the new offseason

MSU-N volleyball working hard to make up for lost time, and get ready for a spring season


September 11, 2020

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Montana State University-Northern senior Shania Neubauer makes a pass during an MSU-N volleyball practice earlier this week in the Armory Gymnasium. The Skylights are working hard this fall to get ready for next semester's season.

One of the many things that has been bothering Montana State University-Northern head volleyball coach Jerry Wagner during the coronavirus pandemic is what's bothered just about everybody - the uncertainty.

But, finally, Wagner and the Skylights are settling into a routine.

Back in June, the NAIA moved all fall national championships to the spring of 2021, but for a time, it was still possible that the Frontier Conference was going to play volleyball this fall. That possibility lingered for much of the summer, before the league finally made the decision last month to move volleyball to 2021.

And from there, Wagner was finally able to relax, as well as begin to move on.

"For me, the toughest thing was not knowing," Wagner, in his second year as Northern's head coach, said. "We didn't know when we were going to play, when we were going to practice, or even if. So now, it's exciting to know, it's exciting to have a plan in place, and have a direction, something to look forward to."

Although the Frontier Conference hasn't released a schedule for volleyball just yet, it's likely the season will consist of 20 conference matches, and end with a postseason tournament. Though the term spring has been used a lot, the season will most likely begin in the winter of 2021 and actually wrap up in the spring.

And though he doesn't have a schedule to look at as of yet, Wagner does have his team practicing on the court together for the first time since last November. And that too, is exciting.

"We're approaching this fall like we would have last spring," Wagner said. "We're looking at it like our offseason, where we are able to get our new players more experience, and bring them up to speed, and also really work on our chemistry, on bringing this team together.

"And, you know, I'm really pleased so far," he continued. "It's going really well. We have a veteran team finally, but at the same time, those new girls have come in with a lot of confidence and they're really pushing the veteran players, and that's what we want right now. So it's gone really good."

With the season still months away, the Skylights are in their offseason so to speak. The NAIA allows for sports programs to utilize 24 weeks any way they can, so for now, the Skylights are practicing full steam ahead.

"We didn't have the spring like we normally do, so we're making up for some lost time," Wagner said. "But we're also moving forward and working hard to prepare for next season, so it's a little of both. We'll practice for a chunk of this fall, then we're done this semester at Thanksgiving, so we'll have a break there, before we come back in January and start getting ready for the season."

Whenever that season begins, Wagner certainly has high hopes for his squad, a team that came on strong late last fall and has four seniors led by All-Conference outside hitter Rylee Burmeester and four-year starter Shania Neubauer. Outside hitter Elissa Lind and middle blocker Tammy Maddock round out a talented senior class for the Skylights.

Havre Daily News/Colin Thompson

Northern's Katie Murdock digs up a ball during a recent MSU-N practice.

"It's a veteran team now," Wagner said. "All of a sudden, we have a lot of experience. We have four seniors who have a ton of experience on the court, and we're bringing in a very experienced setter next semester. So we're going to put five very experienced players on the court together. We also have a strong group of returners around them and then we're mixing in these four new girls, who all come from places where they've won a lot. So my expectations are, we're going to be much improved, we're going to be a tough, veteran team. And I can already see it in these practices. They're coming together, they're feeding off each other really well. The level of play in the gym right now is very high."

So too is the enthusiasm.

Before Aug. 31, the Skylights hadn't been on a volleyball court together since last November. And they won't play a real match for well over a year. So, the time Northern is getting in the gym this fall is precious, and it's exciting.

"I'm excited," Wagner said. "It's been fun to just be on the court together again. The team has been working really hard, but also, I think they're just happy to be out there playing again. So it's going really well. We're working hard right now, we're having fun, and we're improving every day."

An announcement on the postponed 2020 volleyball season, which will be played next semester, should be coming soon from the Frontier Conference Presidents.


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