Volleyball off to fourth straight 2-0 Big Sky start
By ZACH BOND
GREELEY -- For the fourth year in a row, the Northern Colorado volleyball program has started off Big Sky play with two-straight victories after downing Montana State 3-1 at home on Saturday evening.
With the win, the Bears (9-2, 2-0 Big Sky) also made it nine victories out of their first 11 matches -- tying the school Division I record for best 11-match start.
Northern Colorado rode a balanced attack to .295 hitting while their defense managed to hold the Bobcats (7-3, 1-1 Big Sky) to just .195 hitting.
"We were very well balanced tonight -- which I like," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Oates said. "I thought we were streaky-- I thought early on we set Kelley a little bit too much and, late, we set Tambre a little too much, but for the duration of the match it evened out pretty well."
Senior setter Marissa Hughes (Huntington Beach, Calif.) was another bright spot for Northern Colorado, as she found herself back in the starting lineup after missing Thursday night's match against Montana.
After getting some rest all week, it didn't appear Hughes had to shake off any rust as she finished the night with a match-high 40 assists to go along with seven digs and five kills.
"I thought Marissa looked 100 percent," Oates said. "Which is exactly why we rested her (Thursday). She could have played Thursday night -- it wasn't that she was so injured that our trainers wouldn't let her. We just felt she really needed that week of rest because we don't want to go 80 percent the rest of the season with her and I think we got her back to 100 percent."
To go along with the balanced attack and the return of Hughes, one of the other big reasons Northern Colorado was able to come away with the victory was its defense -- especially the blocking. The Bears were able to hold Montana State to its lowest hitting percentage all season and the team's exceptional effort at the net was a big reason why.
The Bears out-blocked the Bobcats 9-5 and were led by redshirt-sophomore Brianna Strong. The Mount Vernon, Iowa native finished with five total blocks.
Strong has really gotten off to a great start in conference play as she was coming off a career-high seven blocks on Thursday against Montana.
The middle blocker was also a threat all night offensively for the Bears, as she finished with seven kills on .500 hitting.
Both Arnold (Berthoud, Colo.) and Haddock (Longmont, Colo.) finished with a team-high 12 kills with Arnold hitting .250 while Haddock hit .194.
Junior Alyssa Wilson (Clinton, Okla.) also had one of her strongest performances since early September. She finished the night with eight kills (.294), four digs and two blocks.
From the get-go, it was clear the Bears were going to get a good effort from a talented Montana State squad. The first set -- one the Bears would eventually win 25-19 -- was nip-and-tuck throughout with neither team able to forge a lead larger than three until late. With the set tied at 15 apiece, the Bears finished with 10-4 run to take the opener.
Northern Colorado controlled play more in the second set as it got out to a 4-0 start. Eventually, the Bears forged a 10-point lead at 23-13 before going on to win 25-17.
The first two sets were the picture of offensive efficiency for the Bears, as they finished with .382 hitting -- only making seven attacking-errors in the match's opening sets.
In the third set though, the Montana State came out with plenty of energy. After Northern Colorado held them to just .148 hitting in the first two sets, the Bobcats came out and took the third set 25-19 with the help of .448 hitting.
"I thought we served very aggressive in games one and two to keep (Montana State) out of system," Oates said. "They run that fast ball to their outside hitters and that's really not a good matchup for us. It created some matchup problems if we didn't serve aggressive and I thought in game three we backed off a little bit with our serving and then we saw the Montana State team that's capable of hitting over .400."
After dropping the third set, the Bears came out for set no. 4 and took back control right away -- jumping out to a 5-2 early lead and never looking back. The defense was stifling in the match's final set as Northern Colorado held the Bobcats to .061 hitting.
Now, after eight-straight home matches, the Bears will hit the road again for the first time in Big Sky play when they play Idaho State and Weber State on Friday, Sept. 21 and Saturday, Sept. 22, respectively.