Volleyball downs Eagles, inches toward another Big Sky title
GREELEY -- Northern Colorado Volleyball held its annual Senior Night celebration Saturday, and senior leader Amanda Arterburn celebrated with a serving and defensive clinic in the Bears' impressive 3-0 win against Eastern Washington.
Set scores were 25-17, 25-12, 25-23, and the Bears (17-8, 10-3 Big Sky) moved closer to clinching a sixth consecutive Big Sky Volleyball Championship bid and closer to their first outright Big Sky Conference regular-season championship.
Arterburn came into the match seventh in Northern Colorado history with 1,595 career digs and fifth in the Bears' NCAA Division I history with 64 service aces.
She added to both categories against the Eagles (13-12, 9-5 Big Sky), getting to a match-high 22 digs and serving up a team-high two aces. Those 22 digs were the most of her career for a three-set match.
And from the service line, she twice authored seven-point runs for the Bears, turning a 15-15 tie in set one into a 22-15 bulge and then a 2-2 tie in set two into a 9-2 advantage for UNC. The Eagles never really recovered from either run and went into intermission down 2-0—the 14th team this season to be in such a hole against the Bears.
Northern Colorado then fought back from a 22-20 deficit in set three, with a 5-1 run, to finish its 2011 home schedule at 9-3 and with a fifth consecutive win against Eastern Washington.
"[Amanda's] rotation—every time she went back there (to serve)—we went on runs," Benson said. "So I thought she did a great job from the service line, [and] she was all over the place defensively. When Amanda goes back there to serve it's our best blocking rotation and [she's] one of our best servers. So we need to score points in that rotation, or they (UNC's opponent) are going to go on a run.
"I thought we played very efficient in sets one and two and really had them (Eastern Washington) uncomfortable going into the break. I thought they played much better in set three, and that's kind of what we expected in set three, with it being for the entire match."
The Bears were led on offense in the win by junior Brittany Crenshaw, who slammed down a season-high 10 kills on .600 hitting. She committed just one error on 15 attacks and also tied junior teammate Kelley Arnold with a team-high three blocks.
"That might be her (Crenshaw's) best performance of the year," Benson said. "I mean, she's hitting .600, so that's efficient, and we set her at crucial times. We've pushed her these last couple weeks. I've been riding her in practice to get up and be an option, and [that] we need her blocking, and she's really responded. She had a great night."
Arnold added nine kills, as did freshman Tambre Haddock. Freshman Andrea Spaustat had seven kills on .312 hitting—she continues to lead the Big Sky Conference with a .350 hitting percentage—and junior Marissa Hughes handed out 30 assists and 17 digs, for her 16th career double-double.
Dawson finished with eight digs and an assist; Law made her 31st career appearance in the second set; Williams had five digs, a kill, assist and service ace; and Laband had six assists and a dig.
"It was great that we were able to get all of them in," Benson said. "They've contributed over their four years, so it was important that they contribute tonight on their Senior Night. I thought Natalie [Laband] went in and did a good job, and we're very comfortable with Natalie setting.
"All of them have made a huge impact on our program–on the court, off the court. They are great leaders. We're really going to miss them next year."
The Bears, who have played eight of their last 10 matches in Greeley, will now end their season with three matches on the road. They'll play at Idaho State and Weber State next weekend before finishing their regular season at Northern Arizona.
Saturday's win against Eastern Washington put the Bears in great shape for their first outright Big Sky regular-season championship—they hold a half-match lead over Portland State, which won Saturday at Northern Arizona, but hold the tiebreaker against the Viks, because of a regular-season sweep.
But, as Benson noted in her postgame press conference, the Bears still have work to do. For example, they haven't even clinched a spot in the league's postseason tournament, which pits the top-four regular-season teams in a two-day tournament.
"We keep looking at the math, and we're still not in the conference tournament yet," Benson said. "So we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. With three road matches ahead of us—Idaho State, who beat us on our home court; Weber State, who is playing much, much better; and then [Northern Arizona], who was the top team going into conference play. So we don't have an easy road ahead of us. We really need to take it one match at a time, and not play to protect first place. We've got to go and attack matches with authority."