By Ryan Divish
Everything until this point means nothing. It doesn't matter of you're 10 -0 or 0-10. A new season, the important season, begins tonight when the Montana-State Northern women's volleyball teams hosts Montana Tech tonight at 7 p.m. at the Armory Gymnasium the Frontier Conference volleyball season.
"Right now non-conference records don't mean a thing," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "(Conference season) is what we work for all pre-season. This is what we run for, train for and discipline for is right now."
Northern finished their non-conference schedule with 8-9 record. More importantly, the Skylights are playing some of their best volleyball season. They fought through injuries and illness to finish second at the UM-Western tournament last weekend. And the Skylights will have to duplicate that play against the Orediggers.
Prior to the 2002 volleyball season, the coaches in the Frontier conference picked Montana Tech to finish sixth in the league, just ahead of Westminster and the University of Great Falls.
Most of the coaches in the Frontier might be rethinking their picks. The Orediggers, 11-7, have been one of the top teams in the non-conference season.
"We knew we were better than sixth," said Tech head coach Marilyn Tobin. "It gave us a little incentive for the season."
As if Tech needed anymore incentive, Tobin admitted her team will have even a little more. The Diggers will also be looking to exact a little revenge on the Skylights after Northern defeated them, 22-30, 30-20, 30-21, 30-20 at the UM-Western tournament.
"Tech is going to come in here fired up because we beat them," Handley said.
In that match, Northern was led by Tamecia Watkins with 21 kills and 15 digs. But, it wasn't just Watkins that played well. The Skylights had great hitting and serving percentages. The team as a whole played solid, and it must happen again.
"Everybody has to play well," Handley said. "We can't have just one or two people play well. Everybody has to play great. That's one of the things that helped us when we played them last time. "
Tech is keyed by its solid defense. Kaila Minehan who plays the newly created Libero position might be the best in the league according to Handley. Tobin has said that her team will do anything to dig the ball up and keep it in play. Something that Handley agrees with.
"Their defense is just amazing," Handley said. "Sometimes, I get caught just watching their defense during the matches."
While Handley said Tech has always played good defense, it's their offense and aggressiveness that has surprised teams.
"They could always play defense," Handley said. "Now they have some weapons to go with that defense."
Those weapons include junior Angela Bausch, junior college transfer Michelle Howell and freshman Beka Hudson from Whitefish.
"Angela Bausch is definitely their team leader," Handley said. "She can hit from a variety of angles and really leads on the court."
While Tech will have all it's weapons for the match, Northern could be without a key one of their own. Junior outside hitter Tanja Bruski suffered a sprained ankle at the Western tourney and her status is still uncertain. Bruski has tried to practice but if she can't go freshmen Julie Henderson and Melanie Walker will have to take her place.
Perhaps, Handley's biggest concern will be her team's reaction to their first home game.
"I worry about them being nervous and playing tentative because of those nerves," Handley said. "I want them to be aggressive and not hold back. If they make mistakes, I want them to make aggressive mistakes."
Handley is hoping that a large home crowd will show and help her team.
"We just found out that Tech's entire football will be there watching," she said. "We're hoping to get a lot of people there and have a larger crowd than them. We usually have good fan support."
Northern will continue its home stand hosting Lewis and Clark State on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
Notes: Former Havre High standout athlete Shaela Evenson is an assistant coach for Montana Tech. Evenson played both volleyball and basketball for Tech before receiving her degree in Applied Health Science.