The Montana State University-Northern volleyball team wasn’t about to let its season be derailed on the last day.
Despite a rough trip to Billings where the Skylights were swept by Rocky Mountain College on Thursday night, and a valiant effort from the host Dickinson State Blue Hawks, the Skylights managed to close out the regular season with a four-game win over DSU Saturday in Dickinson, N.D. Northern beat the Blue Hawks by scores of 25-17, 24-26, 25-19 and 25-10.
The win over DSU gave the Skylights an outstanding 10-6 finish in the Frontier Conference, and a tie for third place. It’s Northern’s highest finish in the league since the 2003 season. MSU-N will be the No. 4 seed in this week’s Frontier tournament because UGF held the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Skylights.
After the rough outing against Rocky, Northern knew the winless Blue Hawks would put up a fight. And they did just that, evening the match at 1-1 after a close win in the second set. From there however, the Skylights, who were playing without junior hitter Kelsey Williams were dominant. MSU-N went on a long scoring run in the third set, and then put the Blue Hawks away with a commanding victory in the fourth.
“Thursday night, we just came out flat and stayed pretty flat, except for the third set,” MSU-N head coach Bill Huebsch said. “And Rocky played exceptionally well. They really dominated us with their blocking and we didn’t respond.
“But Saturday was a lot better,” he added. “We were more focused, and from the third set on, we played really well. We made some adjustments and were in control the rest of the way. Dickinson played pretty well, they played with nothing to lose and they really battled us, especially in the first two sets. But I was really pleased with how we played overall and it was good to get that last win in conference.”
The catalyst for the Skylights was red-shirt freshman Dayna Jensen, who had a coming-out party in Williams’ absence. Jensen finished the match with 16 kills and 20 digs as she was all over the floor. Jensen also finished had the match-winning kill.
“I was really proud of her,” Huebsch said of the freshman from Lewistown. “She stepped in and really did some good things. She really gave us a burst.”
Northern also got plenty offense all around as the Skylights had 57 kills to just 38 for DSU. Abby Nicholas totaled 13 kills and 13 digs, while Hillary Isleifson had nine kills and 12 digs, while Victoria Polo added eight kills, and Haley Russell had eight kills and two blocks. Joni Nagy had two aces and Holly Cartwright totaled 25 of Northern’s 89 digs.
The win over DSU wrapped up a remarkable regular season for the Skylights, one in which Northern beat every team in the Frontier at least once, and swept DSU, Montana Tech and Western. The Skylights finished the regular season with a 16-14 overall record.
“Hopefully, we’re not done yet,” Huebsch said. “But this has been a great year and it has been really neat to see these kids come together and grow and have so much success. We’ve had a season of firsts and this team has accomplished some great things so far.”
Now, MSU-N will turn its attention to the Frontier tournament, which begins Friday in Butte. The Skylights will face the host Orediggers at 2 p.m. and with a win, would advance to the semifinal to take on either top-seeded Lewis-Clark State or either DSU or Western.
Rocky Mountain def. MSU-Northern
25-17, 25-17, 25-23
MSU-N – Kills 29 (Abby Nicholas 9, Hillary Isleifson 7), Assists 27 (Joni Nagy 21), Aces 2, Digs 69 (Holly Cartwright 16, Nicholas 16, Nagy 11), Blocks 7.5 (Isleifson 2).
RMC – Kills 44 (E. Timofeyev 11, A. Dewald 10, M. Stiffarm 10), Assists 44 (B. Moullet 24), Aces 2, Digs 82 (A. Billis 22, J. Elenbaas 20), Blocks 13.5.
MSU-Northern def. Dickinson St.
25-17, 24-26, 25-19, 25-10
MSU-N – Kills 57 (Dayna Jensen 16, Abby Nicholas 13, Hillary Isleifson 9), Assists 52 (Joni Nagy 35), Aces 3 (Nagy 2), Digs 89 (Holly Cartwright 25, Jensen 20), Blocks 9 (Haley Russell 2).
DSU – Kills 38 (S. Zeibig 10, M. Avila 10), Assists 35 (Avila 19), Aces 3, Digs 84 (C. Seibel 20), Blocks 5 (S. Dvorak 3).
Conference Volleyball Standings
Lewis Clark State 11-4 15-9
Carroll 11-5 21-9
Great Falls 10-6 19-11
MSU-Northern 10-6 16-14
Montana Tech 8-8 18-10
Rocky Mountain 8-8 13-17
Westminster 7-8 14-12
UM-Western 5-11 10-18
Dickinson State 0-14 2-20