BUTTE, Mont. – The Lewis-Clark State College volleyball team is now in the unfamiliar position of waiting and hoping to see if its season will continue beyond Saturday.
The Warriors lost in four sets to MSU-Northern in the semifinals of the Frontier Conference Tournament at Montana Tech, and LCSC now clings to a slim chance of getting an at-large bid to the NAIA National Tournament. The national bracket will be announced Sunday.
Both teams played well for the majority of the match on Saturday, but MSU-Northern’s superiority in the middle was a big advantage, as was the Skylights’ jumping out to a 2-0 lead after two sets.
MSU-Northern never trailed in the first set, and the Warriors only drew even with the Skylights once, at 22-all. But Northern took the last three points to take the advantage.
The second set was the one in which the Warriors struggled offensively. LCSC hit just .067 and made nine errors as the Skylights again pulled away late for a 25-20 victory to put the Warriors on the brink.
“Teams play out of their minds against us because they feel that they have nothing to lose,” LCSC coach LaToya Harris said. “It puts a great deal of pressure on us to make fewer mistakes and errors. I told our team to keep their heads up.”
To their credit, the Warriors came back with a 25-19 victory in the third set to avoid the sweep. LCSC trailed 10-6 early in the match, but used the tip play more frequently to circumvent the MSU-Northern block that was so effective all afternoon.
The Skylights had 11 blocks in the match.
Freshman Keisha Luebbert-Kennedy had two big blocks in that set as well as the kill on set point, but Harris lamented her team’s inconsistent effort at the net on Saturday.
“For the most part, our block was not there at all,” Harris said. “We were just putting our arms up for them. Our focus wasn’t strong at the net, and that was huge. They got a lot of their kills because we weren’t doing our job at the net.”
Abby Nicholas and Hillary Isleifson had 16 kills apiece for MSU-Northern.
The Skylights again got off to a hot start in the fourth set, taking a 17-9 advantage before the desperate Warriors began to claw back into the proceedings.
Brianne Brown, one of two seniors who possibly put on the Warrior uniform for the last time on Saturday, had three kills out of four rallies as Lewis-Clark State closed the deficit to three at 18-15.
MSU-Northern had set point at 24-19 after a kill by Nicholas, but LCSC fought it off four times, getting to within two points before Nicholas’ kill ended the set and the match with a 25-23 Skylight victory.
Brown finished with 20 kills against just two errors for a .529 hitting percentage, and Treneisha Doyle added 19 kills for LCSC.
Niurka Toribio tacked on 11 kills but hit just .119 on the day.
Kaylee Rector, LCSC’s other senior, had a match-high 33 digs and Nevena Dragovic dished out 52 assists for the Warriors.
“It comes with the mindset that this could be the last time you play,” Harris said. “People tend to play out of their minds in those situations. There were opportunities for us to play like that in other matches, but our seniors were set up in great positions to lead our team today. We’re hurting for all of them.”
If the Warriors’ season does end here, it will be the first time since 2006 that LCSC did not advance to the national tournament. It is also the first time since 2005 that the team hasn’t played for the Frontier Conference Tournament championship.
“We’re just trying to stay positive,” Harris said. “Maybe someone will see that we’re a team that could compete nationally. We’re just waiting and hoping that someone else sees what we see.”