Volleyball earns seventh straight win against Sacramento State
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado volleyball started a little slow Thursday night, but the Bears eventually got it going against Sacramento State in a 3-1 victory at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion.
Senior Julie Stephenson and sophomore Kelley Arnold tied each other with a team-high 14 kills for Northern Colorado (12-3, 3-0 Big Sky), and those two also had double-digit digs, leading a group of five players with 10 or more scoops.
The 25-27, 25-21, 25-18, 25-23 victory was Northern Colorado's 11th straight at home (longest such streak since 2005), its seventh straight against Sacramento State (evening the all-time mark to 7-7) and its 10th victory this September (only the fifth time that's happened since 1995).
Those are all things head coach Lyndsey Benson was pleased about following the match. She wasn't thirlled, however, with the way the entire match played out.
The end result was great. The process of getting there was anything but.
The Bears lost game one for the fourth straight match, for example, and they hit a season-low .170 as a team against the the Hornets (7-9, 0-1). Doing that against many opponents, including No. 18 Colorado State, which comes into Butler-Hancock next Tuesday night, isn't going to lead to many victories.
"I thought we got gradually better as the match went on, but I don't know if we ever really reached a high level," she said. We just did not execute well throughout tonight. We did not have the same energy that we've had in other matches where we have played at a high level. So, I'm a little disappointed in that aspect, but when we look back on this match in November, we'll remember it as a win. We just need to get better tomorrow in practice."
Freshman Alyssa Wilson, who started for the first time in her career in place of Breanna Williams (injury), had eight kills in the victory. Laband, who improved her record to 6-1 in place of Marissa Hughes, complemented her 15 digs with 43 assists.
If you had cornered Benson earlier this season and told her Wilson and Laband would have played such a roll in a conference match, she probably wouldn't have believed you.
Injuries and illness, though, have forced her hand and given her a chance to test her program's depth in her sixth season in Greeley.
"I hope that having Alyssa in there, having Natalie in there -- we even got RaeLynn in there tonight -- is going to pay off at some point this season," Benson said. "Time will tell if this period is going to help us or not. We'd certainly rather deal with these types of things now than in November.
"These are our starters, and we're going to play hard with who we have. We're talented and we're deep, so there isn't a concern with anyone we have on the floor. I like our starting lineup right now, we've just got to go attack matches."
And now it's on to an emotional match Tuesday night. In the big picture, playing the Rams has little impact on what Benson and her coaches and players are trying to accomplish this sesaon.
In the small picture, though, it's another chance for Northern Colorado to make a statement and to prepare for a second straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
"We know our primary goal is to win a Big Sky Conference championship, so the Big Sky matches are the important matches," Benson said. "CSU is preparation for the Big Sky tournament and postseason. We see that as a bonus match and that we must focus on our Big Sky matches.
"It's going to be great to have them on our home floor, though. This is the first ranked team we've hosted on our floor, so it should be great for our fans, and we should pack Butler-Hancock. For us, it's everything to gain and nothing to lose. We're going to go after it, and good things will happen if we're aggressive."