Volleyball's second straight great run ends in Big Sky final
PORTLAND, Ore. -- Northern Colorado volleyball coach Lyndsey Benson said on more than one occasion last summer that her Bears would be good to start this 2010 season but great by the end of it.
She knew her program was entering a season of change after the loss of four seniors from last year's squad, but she also knew that the players who were returning and coming into the fold were completely capable of keeping the ship headed in the same direction.
That ship's voyage ended Saturday night with a thrilling five-game loss to Portland State in the final match of the Big Sky Championship.
But Benson was right: the Bears (24-7, 14-2 Big Sky) became great this year.
Portland State (21-8, 14-2) was just a little bit better, knocking off Northern Colorado all three teams the teams faced this sesaon, including Saturday night's 22-25, 18-25, 25-23, 25-19, 15-12 win.
Arnold and Lichtenberg were both named afterward to the Big Sky Championship All-Tournament team.
Junior Amanda Arterburn, this year's Big Sky Conference Libero of the Year, out-scooped everyone on the floor with 30 digs, and sophomore Marissa Hughes (17 digs), sophomore Jill Dawson (16) and senior Julie Stephenson (13) helped the Bears dig a season-best 93 balls.
The top-seeded Vikings appeared to be on their way to an easy victory after leading for much of the first two sets, but Northern Colorado rebounded from there to turn it into a fight for their second straight Big Sky Championship and NCAA Tournament berth.
"I couldn't be more proud of this group," Benson said. "They certainly gave us everything they had and left everythong on the floor, which is what you ask of your team in a championship match. It wasn't a matter of heart -- we left it all out there.
"Hats off to Portland State. They battled and executed on a few more plays when we did, but to just battle back and take it five really shows the character of this team."
Northern Colorado scored three of the first four points of the deciding set on a Viking service error, a Kelley Arnold kill and a PSU attack error. From there, though, Portland State found its legs and started to take control after regaining the momentum Benson's crew had swiped after intermission.
A Whitney Phillips kill for Portland State, paired with a Stephenson attack error for the Bears, tied the game at six before the Vikings scored two straight to go ahead 8-6.
Northern Colorado later got to within one, at 10-9, but the Vikings pulled away and ended the Bears' season on a kil from the right side.
Northern Colorado hit .230 in games three and four after finding itself in a potentially season-ending hole, but hit just .042 in the decider, with five errors to go with six kills.
"If you had told me at the beginning of the season that we'd be 24-7 by the end of it, I would have said that's a good season," Benson said. "We've certainly left our mark, and I couldn't be more proud. Our seniors stepped up and were outstanding leaders for us and are going to be greatly missed. It was a good year."
2010 Big Sky Volleyball Championship All-Tournament Team
Whitney Phillips, PSU - MVP
Garyn Schlatter, PSU
Lana Zielke, PSU
Kelley Arnold, NC
Ashley Lichtenberg, NC
Jaimie Thibeault, Montana
Britta Bartschi-Rhodehouse, ISU