Volleyball avoids sting in crucial victory against Hornets
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado Volleyball hadn't lost consecutive home matches in nearly four years, and it came into its first-place showdown with Sacramento State still stinging from a home loss to Idaho State in its last appearance at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
The Bears, in earning a crucial 3-1 win Thursday, played like a team not interested in falling behind the Hornets in the Big Sky Conference standings.
And they also looked like a group not about to drop two in a row in Greeley for the first time since November 2007.
Set scores were 26-24, 25-20, 21-25, 25-20.
Northern Colorado (14-8, 8-3 Big Sky) slammed down 65 kills and got to 89 digs (a season high for a four-set match) in improving to 9-8 all-time against Sacramento State (13-11, 6-3) and 9-1 against them in their last 10 meetings.
The Bears also avenged a straight-sets road loss to the Hornets earlier this year and created a logjam for first in the Big Sky Conference standings between them, Sacramento State and Portland State (11-11, 7-3), which didn't play Thursday.
"This was a must-win for us," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson said. "We both have three losses now, and [Sacramento State wins] the tiebreaker—they beat us in three at their place, we won tonight in four—so, we've got to hope they drop one more match down the stretch and we've got to win out."
"We're far from finished with a lot of matches left, and anything can happen."
The Bears put up some impressive offensive statistics, with three players finishing in double figures in kills, including junior Kelley Arnold and freshman Andrea Spaustat with 16 apiece and freshman Tambre Haddock with 10.
This match was won on defense, though, led by senior Amanda Arterburn (21 digs), who finished with 20-plus digs for the fourth consecutive match and in double-figures in digs for the 21st consecutive match.
"I thought we made some good adjustments defensively," Benson said. "I thought our middle-backs did a good job, which is Bre and Jill defending the corner ball, which is what [Sacramento] State is so good at, hitting those deep corners, and that really puts pressure on you, and I thought they adjusted well to that.
"And I thought we served and pass well, which was really important and something we struggled with at Sac. State. I thought we served more aggressive than they did, and I thought we passed really well, which was led by Amanda [Arterburn]."
Northern Colorado won the first two sets relatively easy, getting off to a 3-0 lead in the first set and holding off for the two-point win and then hitting .353 in set two to take a 2-0 lead into the break for the 12th time this season.
Sacramento State picked itself up off the mat out of the locker room, though, and pushed the Bears with a third-set victory.
Benson has mentioned a time or two this year that her team has struggled with in-match adversity, and she started to see the beginnings of that struggle late in the third set Thursday, when the Hornets scored 10 of the final 14 points for the 25-21 win.
She did her best to squelch the fire, though, and her players responded.
"We've referenced the NAU (Northern Arizona) match [this season]," Benson said, alluding to a 3-0 win earlier this season that was moved to the Northern Colorado Auxiliary Gym after Butler-Hancock sprang a roof leak and featured 17 ties.
"I thought that's been our best display of pushing back. When NAU challenged us, we really stood up to that, and we talked about that [tonight] in the locker room and at timeouts: 'Are we going to push back like we did against NAU?' And I thought we did that for the most part tonight. I don't know that we did that late in set three, but we did going into set four to have a good lead and then hold them off.
"I think we've turned a corner this week. I think there's a different mentality, coming off our Montana loss (3-2 on Saturday, Oct. 22), where we can put multiple matches back-to-back. But that's really going to be the test. We've done this earlier in the season—to get a big win after a tough loss. Now, can we put multiple matches back-to-back? That's really going to be the test for this team."