Volleyball Completes Homestand Sweep
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado's volleyball team made sure that the Montana Grizzlies didn't leave town Saturday night with a football-volleyball sweep.
The football Bears struggled against the Griz's gridiron gang earlier in the day at Nottingham Field, but Lyndsey Benson's volleyball Bears had their back and sent Montana packing with a pretty convincing 3-1 (25-20, 20-25, 25-16, 25-20) victory inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
Northern Colorado improved to 14-5 and 8-2 in the Big Sky Conference with the win and maintained its one-match lead over second-place Portland State, who also won, against Idaho State, on Saturday night.
The Bears' victory also avenged one of their two conference losses this season. Montana (9-11, 5-5) defeated Northern Colorado earlier in both teams' conference opener in Missoula.
"Our first match at Montana was our first Big Sky Conference match, and I think we had some nerves going in that one," junior libero Breanna VanDerMost said. "I don’t know if we panicked, but I think we really wanted to show people in this league that we were good. And tonight, we were a little more focused and we just played our game, and the better team won.”
Added Benson: “I think we’re tougher right now than when we played them the first time. We definitely made some adjustments, too. We missed some matchups, where we were exploited that first time, and I thought we had some better matchups tonight.”
Taylor Smith seemed to benefit the most from some of those adjustments. A couple nights after turning in a sizzling performance in a victory against Idaho State (10 kills, .600 hitting percentage), Smith had a similar effort against a much more formidable opponent.
She rained down 18 kills on Montana on Saturday night and hit at a .500 clip.
"Nobody really talks about her," Northern Colorado assistant coach Tom Hunter said. "They always talk about Kenzie because she's got the big hits, and they always talk about Allison because she's a high-flyer, but Taylor always just kind of goes unnoticed. She's been one of our most consistent hitters, though. She was awesome tonight."
As a team, the Bears out-hit Montana .273 to .188 and collected more kills (62 to 50). Kenzie Shreeve led them with 19 kills, and Allison Raguse was solid at 10 kills and .368.
And while the hitters did the glamour work on this night, it was the Bears' defense that was the unsung hero.
Northern Colorado out-dug Montana 72-52, led by VanDerMost's 20, sophomore Jaclyn Bruns' season-high 14 scoops, and 12 from senior captain Lauren Carter, who added 52 assists for her third double-double of the season.
"Being a great defensive team was one of our goals at the beginning the season," Benson said. "We feel like we are a good defensive team, and we have to out-dig a team to give our offense a chance. We’re good offensively when our defense sets us up in good opportunities. We feel like we have to out-dig to be successful.”
The victory was the Bears' fourth in a row and seventh in their last 10 matches. They'll now take that streak and their first-place conference standing on the road for three straight away matches -- with the first coming in a Halloween night showdown with Sacramento State, who Northern Colorado defeated 3-0 at home earlier this year.
And those hot-on-the-heels Vikings are on the schedule after that (Nov. 6) and Eastern Washington will follow (Nov. 8).
“We just have to go into every match knowing it’s going to be a fight and that anybody can beat anybody," Smith said. "We can’t take anything for granted. Even though we are No. 1 right now, we still have six more games to go, and they’re against really good teams.”