September 15, 2011

Volleyball continues Montana dominance

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Postmatch notes

GREELEY -- Kelley Arnold, Alyssa Wilson and Tambre Haddock put on an offensive clinic Thursday night in Northern Colorado's straight-sets victory against Montana in the Big Sky Conference opener for both teams.

Arnold finished with 11 kills on a team season-high .588 hitting, Wilson added 10, hitting at a .450 clip, and Haddock slammed down six with a .385 percentage.

The three combined for just three attack errors in the 3-0 win (25-17, 25-14, 25-20) and helped the Bears to a .365 percentage for the match -- their second-best Big Sky mark in six league seasons and highest since hitting .405 against Montana State in Oct. 2008.

With the help of another great assist night from setter Marissa Hughes (31 assists) and a superb-but-becoming-typical defensive effort from Amanda Arterburn (16 digs), the trio pushed Northern Colorado (7-4, 1-0 Big Sky) past Montana (3-6, 0-1) for the fourth consecutive time and gave it a 12-2 sets mark against the Grizzlies in the past two seasons.

The Bears also improved to 5-1 in six Big Sky Conference openers.

"I thought we played very efficient," Northern Colorado coach Lyndsey Benson said. "All of our hitters hit a high percentage tonight. I mean, as a team, to hit .365 is excellent. Defensively, I wasn't quite as pleased. Luckily, (the Grizzlies) were out of system a lot -- they couldn't run their offense -- because we would have been in trouble defending a couple of their hitters -- they had two hitters hit over .400.

"So, even though it's a 3-0 sweep, I'm not completely pleased with our performance tonight."

Even so, what the Bears did offensively to the Grizzlies was a sight to behold.

They shot out to a 9-2 lead in set two before most of the 1,074 in attendance were completely nestled into their seats and eventually pushed their advantage to 18-5, taking complete control.

The Grizzlies fought back with a 6-0 run to make it 18-11 but got no closer and set the stage for a thoroughly dominating second-set performance that saw Northern Colorado hit a sizzling .462, with sideouts on 13 of 15 chances (86 pecent), and didn't commit an error.

The Bears finished the set on a 9-3 run and entered intermission with a .407 hitting percentage. At that point, Arnold, Haddock and Wilson had 19 kills with just one error between the three of them.

"Tambre started really strong," Benson said. "She had our first three kills and was without an error until late into the match. So, that was good confidence-building for her. She struggled a little bit against Denver on Tuesday night, so to see her come back from that match as a freshman was good to see.

"And Alyssa has been playing well all season, and tonight was a good matchup for her. I don't think (Montana) expected as much out of Alyssa as she brought tonight."

The Bears and the Grizzlies went back and forth for much of game three, with Montana actually leading by two on a few occasions before Benson called her first timeout of the match and began to let out some of the frustrations that would appear in the postmatch media session.

It worked, as her Bears finished off the Griz for the eighth time in 13 meetings with a 9-4 run -- including the last two points coming on a pair of monster kills from Arnold.  

"We've struggled with Montana on the road, but we've done a pretty good job with Montana at home," Benson said, "That's going to be the same case this year. That's a team that will play very well at their home court in a month when we see them again. That's why I was a little hard on our team after the match. I don't want them thinking, 'We just swept Montana, and we're going to control that team in a month,' because we won't.

"The level (of play) on our side of the net needs to be higher, regardless of our opponent."