Volleyball team back in Big Sky postseason after defeating NAU in five sets
By PARKER COTTON
GREELEY – The Northern Colorado volleyball team took care of business on its end, and the University of Montana delivered an assist for ages.
Coupled with Sacramento State's five-set loss to the Grizzlies, Northern Colorado's five-set victory against Northern Arizona Saturday punched its ticket back to Portland, Ore., for the Big Sky Conference Championship tournament.
Northern Colorado needed a win and a Montana win to tie Sacramento State's conference record. Because the Bears won five of the eight sets they played with the Hornets this season, they won the tiebreaker.
The Bears (14-16, 10-10 Big Sky) won the first (25-17), third (27-25) and fifth sets (15-13), but it might be the 25-23 loss in set four that propelled Northern Colorado to victory.
The Lumberjacks (19-10, 13-7 Big Sky) led 14-6 and 20-11 in the fourth set, but the Bears battled back to tie it at 22 before losing 25-23.
"It was all about momentum, and in the second half that fourth game, we won," Oates said. "We were playing well late in the fourth set. And that was more important — we were playing aggressive, we were going after it, going into the fifth set."
The fifth set was also tied at 13, and the Bears again found a way to win.
Junior middle blocker Andrea Spaustat (Omaha, Neb.) led the Bears with 13 kills, but her biggest contribution came at the service line where she had a career-high six aces.
Northern Arizona had four players record 11 or more kills, but 36 team attack errors and a .124 hitting percentage wasn't enough.
The Bears' three seniors — Merideth Johnson (Fort Collins, Colo.), Alyssa Wilson (Clinton, Okla.) and Donne' Elcock (Longmont, Colo.) — all came up big on the night meant to honor them as they played their last home match.
Johnson had 20 digs and two service aces, Wilson had 10 kills and nine digs and Elcock had a career-high eight kills in her first career start.
"Alyssa and Merideth have gotten a lot of accolades and have been on the floor a lot, but Donne' Elcock tonight came up huge for us," Oates said. "The way she played was a huge factor in the match, and it allowed us to use Cheyanne Lyons on the left side, which really was needed late in that match as well."
Kendra Cunningham (Eaton, Colo.) had eight kills and added a career-high 25 digs, while Ashley Guthrie (Saugus, Calif.) had five kills, 10 digs and 51 assists. Brianna Strong (Mount Vernon, Iowa) collected 12 kills and five total blocks.
Oates said the seeding of the tournament isn't as important as it seems, citing that the Bears were the No. 4 seed last year and won the conference championship. Now the No. 6 seed, the Bears will face the No. 3 seed Idaho State on Friday on the court of the No. 1 seed, Portland State.
"Our most likely matchup is Idaho State. They swept us this year, but they swept us last year and we beat them at tournament time," Oates said. "Portland State has beat us during the regular season, which is no different from previous years, and the championship will likely go through Portland State on their home floor. We've proven we can beat North Dakota, so I think our team will have a lot of confidence going into the tournament. Because of previous years, our upperclassmen know what it takes to win at tournament time."