Volleyball sends message, clinches tourney berth with dominating victory
GREELEY, Colo. -- Northern Colorado volleyball clearly didn't look past Montana State on Saturday night inside Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
The Bears, who have huge road matches looming with Portland State and Eastern Washington next weekend, put the pedal to the metal early in this one and didn't let up until the final point fell in their favor for a 3-0 sweep (25-14, 25-15, 25-16) against the Bobcats.
The victory, Northern Colorado's NCAA Division I-record 18th, moved the Bears (18-9, 11-2 Big Sky) into sole possession of first place in the Big Sky Conference standings and clinched Northern Colorado's fourth-straight conference-tournament appearance.
The Bears also earned their sixth-straight victory Saturday night -- that's only happened twice now since they begain playing in the country's top division -- and moved head coach Lyndsey Benson to 72-71 in her five years in Greeley, giving her an overall winning record as a coach for the first time since her first season.
"We know every match is important at this time of the season," Benson said. "We're gearing up and preparing for the tournament, and each of these remaining matches is a stepping stone for the tournament. I thought tonight was a good step in the right direction."
Northern Colorado outhit Montana State (3-20, 1-12) .356 to .180 in the victory and got an unbelievable performance from middle blocker Allison Raguse. The senior from Lincoln, Neb., had 12 kills across the three games and committed just one error in 15 attempts. That added up to .733 hitting percentage, which is the third-best single match performance in the Big Sky this season.
She also added eight digs and three services aces.
"She was really good," Benson said. "We moved her around a lot tonight, which I think was key for her in scoring in different spots along the net. That's something we've been working on and she's really doing a great job there.
"And I thought she did a great job leading our team. (The Bobcats) couldn't keep up with her, and the rest of our team followed her tempo."
The Bears also received nine kills and nine digs from senior Kenzie Shreeve, eight kills on .421 hitting from senior Taylor Smith and seven kills on .700 hitting from junior Ashley Lichtenberg.
And Breanna VanDerMost inched closer to eighth on Northern Colorado's all-time digs chart with 18 Saturday night, giving her 1,424 in her career, 15 shy of Kelly Pappenheim's 1,439 from 1985-1987.
The Bears entered Saturday's contest on the heels of a 3-1 victory against Montana on Thursday night. But their level of overall play on Thursday didn't match that final tally. Northern Colorado failed to win any of the major stat categories (digs, blocks, kills, assists) against the Grizzlies.
That was not a problem Saturday, however.
The Bears had 49 kills to Montana State's 30, 51 digs to 35, and 44 assists to 26. The teams tied in blocks (3-3).
"It was great to have a night like this," Raguse said, "especially after a not-so-hot match against Montana, where we didn't play very pretty. This was just one of those nights where we got to look nice for the crowd and get a solid win."