Volleyball cruises past Denver, runs win streak to seven
GREELEY -- For as historic as last season was for Northern Colorado volleyball, that team was not able to accomplish what the Bears did against Denver on Tuesday night inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
Northern Colorado finally closed out the Pioneers after getting out to a 2-0 advantage.
Ashley Lichtenberg slammed down 14 kills for the second straight match for the Bears, Brittany Crenshaw and Julie Stephenson each added seven more, and Amanda Arterburn scooped 16 digs to help Northern Colorado knock off Denver 27-25, 25-16, 25-12.
The Bears (7-2), which hadn't beat the Pioneers (4-4) at home since 1997, took 2-0 leads into intermission in each of the last two seasons on the road against Denver only to see the home team come all the way back and claim 3-2 victories.
Not Tuesday night.
The Bears played a nip-and-tuck match with their guests through the first game but then put the pedal to the metal in games two and three to win for the seventh straight time this season and sixth straight at home.
"Both teams are a little banged up right now, so it didn't feel like the typical DU-UNC rivalry out there," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson said. "It didn't quite have that feel to it, but, at the end of the day, it's a 3-0 sweep against Denver, which we haven't been able to accomplish the last few years. So, that feels good."
Northern Colorado played the match without the service of starting setter Marrisa Hughes, who came in and out of the Bears' emotional victory against Georgia on Saturday night with an illness and is day-to-day with those same symptons.
Junior Natalie LaBand filled in for Hughes and set a career high with 34 assists. She also had three digs and a kill.
"Well, anytime you take a starter out, it affects you a little bit," Benson said, "but I thought Natalie did a good job tonight. We're not sure how long Marissa is going to be out, but Natalie stepped in there and did a great job. She's a junior who's been with us for two years and is very comfortable with our system and with our hitters."
Sophomore Kelley Arnold, the MVP of last weekend's Northern Colorado Classic and an all-tournament selection two weekends in a row (San Diego State) showed some potential effects Tuesday night of having played six matches in seven days.
The second-year player out of Berthoud had six kills but also had five errors. She found other ways to contribute with seven digs and three blocks.
Lichtenberg was there to pick up the slack, though. She entered the match leading the Big Sky Conference in hitting at .426 and she only missed that mark by a smidge against the Pioneers (.423).
She finished 49th in the country last year in hitting percentage and figures to end her career even higher atop the national rankings.
"So far this season, it's been Kelley and Ashley back and forth," Benson said, "so when one of them struggles the other steps up. That's a nice combination that we have going there. Ashley really took charge of the match tonight."
The Bears will now take a few days off before boarding a bus and heading north to Wyoming's UniWyo Cowgirl Classic on Friday and Saturday.
Northern Colorado will take on Texas-Arlington on Friday before facing Portland and the host Cowgirls on Saturday.
"It's going to be three very solid teams, starting with UTA," Benson said. "We're going to have to play at a very high level up there. We haven't scouted them completely, but looking at their records, up to this point, it's going to be three very good teams."