Lichtenberg pushes volleyball in come-from-behind thriller
POCATELLO, Idaho -- Northern Colorado senior Ashley Lichtenberg entered this weekend's road trip ranked 28th in the country in hitting percentage.
She'll be ranked even higher than that this week.
The fourth-year player out of Bettendorf, Iowa, slammed down 28 kills Saturday night, with an astounding .533 hitting percentage, to help the Bears squeak out a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against Idaho State and get off to a perfect 2-0 start in the Big Sky Conference race for the second straight season.
Lichtenberg, who also had 10 blocks, came into the weekend hitting a sizzling .415 on the season, but her performance against Idaho State bumped that mark even higher, to .420.
"Ashely Lichtenberg really played like a senior leader tonight," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson said. "She did a great job and even had a couple blocks at the end. Offensively, she was just phenomenal tonight and was obviously key for us as we came back there."
Lichtenberg's final kill total is tied for the second most single-match kills in Northern Colorado's NCAA Division I history (Kenzie Shreeve, 2009) and trails only sophomore Kelley Arnold's 30-kill performance earlier this season against Cal State Northridge.
Arnold, herself, added 20 kills against the Bengals on Saturday night, and senior Julie Stephenson pitched in with her team-leading second double-double this year (11 kills, 14 digs).
It all helped the Bears (11-3, 2-0 Big Sky) overcome a 2-0 deficit at intermission, improve to 11-1 all-time against Idaho State (8-4, 1-1) and win for the 11th time in 12 matches.
"That was definitely not the way we had it scripted out," Benson said. "But I certainly love our competitviness right now. I really challenged our team after game one, saying that the team who wants this match won is really going to compete for it right now. We did that from that point on and came out on top in the end. They really competed, and I couldn't be more proud of that aspect of the match."
Junior setter Natalie Laband continued her strong play in the win in place of starter Marissa Hughes (illness). She set a career high in assists for the second straight night (52) and also scooped 17 digs, which eclipsed her previous career best of six.
In the last two weekends, in which the Bears have gone 5-1, Laband has established career bests in kills, assists, service aces, digs and blocks and has kept the ship afloat while Northern Colorado awaits the return of Hughes, a second-team all-conference player in 2009.
"I've sensed from day one with this group that their biggest strength is how competitive they are," Benson said in the afterglow of a crazy come-from-behind win. "I think that showed tonight. We just refused to lose. We didn't play perfect volleyball, and at times it was really ugly, but we battled, and that was huge."