October 16, 2010

Volleyball rebounds from loss, knocks off Eagles in five

Box score | NC season stats

CHENEY, Wash. -- Northern Colorado head coach Lyndsey Benson has said a few times already this season that her team needs to be more than just the "Ashley and Kelley Show" if its to have the kind of success she envisions.

Well, on Saturday night at Reese Court, the Bears got some stellar play once again from stalwarts Ashley Lichtenberg and Kelley Arnold but also received some standout efforts from Marissa Hughes, Julie Stephenson and Amanda Arterburn in a 3-2 thriller against Eastern Washington.

Lichtenberg (17 kills, .424 hitting) and Arnold (20 kills, 17 digs, six blocks) were their usual selves and continued to show why the Bears (16-5, 7-1 Big Sky) might feature the league's best one-two punch this season. But, per Benson's warning, their play alone will hardly ever be enough on any given night.

That's when others need to step up, and did they ever here in Cheney.

Hughes had a career-high eight kills from the setter position in the win, Stephenson got to a career-high 19 digs and Arterburn turned in 32 digs, which would have been a career high if she hadn't scopped 33 last night against Portland State.

That all added up to a 19-25, 25-23, 22-25, 25-13, 15-10 victory for the Bears that was their first regular-season road win against Eastern Washington (4-14, 3-5) since 2006.

The victory also helped ease the sting for the Bears of suffering a 3-2 loss in a similar match last night at Portland State.

"Very similar match to last night, except we were on the other end," Benson said. "We escaped here with a road win. We certainly didn't get any style points -- it was not our best match -- but we came through in game five. I thought we played UNC volleyball in game five, where we were aggressive and played great defense.

"That's what we were looking for the whole match, but I guess we took it down to the wire."

Neither team hit exceptionally well in this one, with Northern Colorado finishing at the .179 mark and the Eagles coming in at .132. The Bears, who were also outblocked in the match, 13.5 to seven, made their bones on the defensive side in digs.

Northern Colorado got to a remarkable 93 digs in the win, its most in a single match since getting to 103 at Sacramento State on Oct. 31, 2008.

"Julie Stephenson made some great defenisve plays throughout tonight, especially in game five," Benson said. "We also got to some blocks in that fifth game (two) and that really made a difference in the momentum of the game."

So, the Bears were able to lick their wounds and rebound from a loss with key road victory that keeps them in a tie for first in the Big Sky Conference race at the midway point of the league chase.

Northern Colorado, which plays at Sacramento State next weekend before returning home to finish out October, knows it still controls its quest for a first regular-season Big Sky title.

A loss here tonight would have muddied the Bears' situation.

"Any road win is a good win right now in this conference," Benson said, "and we're still in control of our destiny. A split on this road trip is something we haven't been able to do the last couple years. So, we'll learn from it and take on these two teams when they come to our place and we get another chance against them. After 10 games this weekend, we need a little break and we'll get ready for Sacramento State."