By Ryan Divish
It wasn't pretty at times. But in the record book, it still goes down as a win. The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team overcame a few shaky moments to defeat the University of Great Falls Argos, 30-26, 30-28, 30-27, Wednesday night at the Northern gymnasium.
"It was a good win," said Skylights head coach Lisa Handley. "Don't get me wrong. But I just want a little more from these guys."
Northern, 1-3 in conference and 9-11 overall, battled through some inconsistency in its serve-receive game and a little confusion on offense to earn its first conference win of the season. The Argos remain winless on the season at 0-3 in conference, 0-16 overall.
The match was as spirited as it was sloppy. The general dislike between the two teams is very real and a rivalry is not building it's already built.
"They're our rivals," said sophomore Jasmine Mitchell. "We're out for blood every time we play them."
Unfortunately, the intensity that comes with a rivalry doesn't always transfer into solid play on the court.
In the first game, neither team could pull away early. As has been the case in most of their games this season, the Argos hurt themselves with mistakes. Down only a point at 11-10, UGF had a couple key hitting errors and a net touching violation that resulted in Skylight points. Northern capitalized and took a 16-11 lead on an Emmy Olson ace.
However, the Skylights let the Argos back into the game. Northern's serve-receive faltered, giving up four aces, while Deidre Ranf added four kills as UGF fought back to tie the game at 26.
Northern rallied with a pair of aces by Julie Henderson to take the lead, 28-26. Tanja Bruski ended the Argos' Game One hopes by picking up one of her eight kills and adding a nice stuff block on game point.
"That's our team. They like to come from behind instead of getting the lead and keeping them down," Handley said. "We have got to not let teams back into games."
However, it would be something that the Skylights would continue to allow the rest of the night.
In Game Two, Northern forced the action early, grabbing a 6-3 lead behind kills from Mitchell and Olson. But UGF mounted a rally behind the serving of Janet Austin and the hitting of Stephanie Smith. Austin served three consecutive aces and Smith added four kills as the Argos went on a 14-3 run to grab a 17-10 lead.
Handley called a timeout and was visibly upset with her team.
"She wasn't too happy," Mitchell said of Handley. "She wanted us to pick it up, play together as a team and just regroup."
It must have worked. Northern mounted a rally going on an 11-4 run to tie the game at 21. UGF was able to stretch the lead to 28-23 behind a pair of kills from Smith and an ace by Jaclyn Bird. But the Skylights fought so hard to get back in the game, they weren't going to let it just slip away.
Hannah Nutting served a pair of aces while Bruski and Mitchell combined for a block to tie the game at 28. UGF, obviously flustered, made a bad passing error to give Northern a one-point lead, 29-28. Mitchell then ended the game with a monster stuff block.
While she was happy with the way her team fought back, Handley thought it should have never been in the situation in the first place.
"Everybody was pretty excited after Game Two," Handley said. "I asked them, Did it really feel like you won Game Two?' because it didn't to me."
Perhaps nobody took Handley's criticism better than Mitchell. The sophomore tallied five kills in Game Three and had two big stuff blocks.
Consecutive kills from Mitchell gave the Skylights their biggest lead of the game at 16-11. It was a lead they would never relinquish. Even when UGF pulled within a point, at 24-23, Mitchell came up with a pair of kills, while Bruski and Olson each added a kill to finish the game.
Not one to make excuses, Handley did admit that her team is still finding its way in the new offense she installed on Monday.
"Changing the offense had some effect because we only had two days to practice at it," Handley said. "It ran a little more smoothly in practice than it did tonight. In the long run it will work better for us."
The Skylights had three players finish with double figures in kills with Mitchell, Watkins and Olson netting 10 apiece. Bruski, still recovering from a sprained ankle, had a solid all-around game with eight kills in 11 attempts, along with 10 digs and 3 blocks. Nutting also had a nice game at setter, dishing out 39 assists while picking up 17 digs.
The effort was there. Still, Handley wants more from her team.
"We had two or three people play pretty well," Handley said. "But we had one or two who didn't play quite up to their abilities. We need everybody to play well on the same night."
Northern is off the remainder of the week before returning to action on Oct. 3-4 when the team travels to UM-Western and Westminster for a pair of conference matches.