Volleyball can't close out Rams in rivalry match
By ZACH BOND
GREELEY – Rivalry games can often times bring out what's best about collegiate athletics. The intensity of the student-athletes and the passion of the crowd can mix to form some of the most electric atmospheres at any event.
You can definitely say Tuesday night was one of those rivalry matches for Northern Colorado as they fell 3-1 to instate-rival Colorado State inside Butler-Hancock.
The Bears (19-10, 12-6 Big Sky) fell 25-21, 22-25, 28-26, 21-25 to the Rams (18-7, 10-3 Mountain West) and will have to wait until next time to try and snap an 11-match skid against Colorado State.
The loss also marked the first time since 2007 that Northern Colorado has dropped back-to-back home matches.
After winning the first set, it looked like Northern Colorado could pull an upset of Colorado State – a team perennially ranked amongst the nation's very best and currently a team that sits just a half game behind San Diego State for first place in the Mountain West.
The Rams came back and won set no. 2, but the real tipping point of the match came in the third set. The Bears found themselves down 15-9 about midway through the set and still down 22-20 late, but found a way to battle back tie things up at 24 apiece.
With the crowd behind them, it looked like Northern Colorado was on the verge of taking the set as it nabbed a 26-25 lead after a Marissa Hughes kill. Unfortunately for the Bears, Colorado State scored the next three points to take the set and establish control of the match.
"I think that is a team we can beat, so it's disappointing to come away with a loss," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Oates said. "But I do think we played well – I like our level of play. It's two or three points in each game that are going to make the difference that I'm disappointed in, but 20 of those points I'm very pleased with how we played.
"Overall it's a good match for us, but we needed to find ways to win and game three was really the momentum shift. When it goes 28-26, we had chances to win that set and we just couldn't quite put it away."
It was the final regular-season home match for the Northern Colorado seniors and Kelley Arnold made sure she went out with a bang.
Arnold (Berthoud, Colo.) played perhaps her best match of the season and displayed why she still is the reigning Big Sky MVP. Her 24 kills on the night are the most any Bear has recorded this season. What's most impressive though is she got those kills on .327 hitting.
She also notched eight digs and came up with two momentum-swinging solo blocks on the night.
"I think she was the best player on the floor, and that's really good for Kelley to feel it going into her last few weeks of the season," Oates said. "She feels like that's Kelley Arnold playing again and at times this year, her senior year, she hasn't always felt that. She's struggled a bit. She's played tight – wanting it so bad that she couldn't just play free. Against a team like that, to play free and loose and big was great to see her come back like that."
Another senior, Hughes (Huntington Beach, Calif.), had a big night in her regular season home finale. The three-time All-Big Sky performer finished with 45 assists, four digs, three blocks and three kills.
As a team, the Bears (.233 hitting) actually outhit the Rams (.222 hitting), but the difference in the match came in small areas. The Rams had eight more assists than the Bears, while Northern Colorado recorded 10 service errors compared to just six for Colorado State.
Northern Colorado came out of the gate clearly powered by the home crowd. Led by Arnold's nine kills on .643 hitting, the Bears raced out to .368 hitting while hold the Rams to just .139. They also tallied four blocks compared to just one for Colorado State.
Things swung back the other way for Colorado State in the second frame. Behind some quality defense the Rams were able to take the set and hold Northern Colorado to just .031 hitting. The Bears managed to tally just seven kills in the frame.
After dropping the heartbreaking third set, it would have been easy for Northern Colorado to go quietly into the night. This team refused to do that, though, as it instead jumped out to an early 5-3 lead. The rest of the set went back and forth before the Rams eventually closed things out.
In what turned out to be the match's final set, the Bears were once again led by Arnold, who tallied seven kills on .333 hitting.
Now, with just two Big Sky matches left on the schedule before postseason play begins, Northern Colorado is preparing itself for the climax of the season: the Big Sky Volleyball Championship in Greeley.
Before the Bears can begin their fight for an NCAA Tournament berth though, it must first finish off its regular season with road matches against Southern Utah and Northern Arizona on Thursday, Nov. 15 and Saturday, Nov. 17 at 7 and 7:30 p.m., respectively.