(MSUB Athletics photo)

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – It will be another busy weekend for Montana State University Billings volleyball (2-2) as the team will travel to Lacey, Wash., for four matches in the NCAA Division II West Region Volleyball Showcase.

The Yellowjackets will open play against Point Loma Nazarene (0-4) on Thursday at 3 p.m. (PST). On Friday, MSUB will play Cal State, Dominguez Hills (3-1) at 10 a.m. (PST) followed by Notre Dame De Namur University (1-3) at 5:30 p.m. (PST). On the final day of the tournament the ‘Jackets will face Humboldt State University (1-1) at 5 p.m. (PST).

LAST TIME OUT: The ‘Jackets spent last weekend competing in four games in two days at the Minot State Classic where they went 2-2. In their first match of the season, MSUB showed its skill and youth as it jumped out to a 2-1 lead but was unable to close out Minnesota State University Moorhead. Against host Minot State, the ‘Jackets dropped a 3-0 match to end play on Friday.

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On Saturday the Yellowjackets showed their quality and resilience as they scored a pair of 3-0 victories against South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Bemidji State University.

“I thought the team overcame a lot of adversity after a tough first day,” head coach Casey Williams said of the Yellowjackets’ performance. “They came ready to play and redeem themselves, and got the job done. We were playing more cohesively and fought hard throughout both matches on Saturday.”

MSUB started the day in a back-and-forth battle with the Hardrockers before finding its groove in the third set and putting the match away with a dominant 25-16 set victory. Maddi Vigil and Bayli Monck led the offense with 13 kills apiece against SD Mines while sophomore Taylor Sherman contributed five kills with a team best .455 hitting percentage. On the defensive side, Izela Alvarez tallied 18 digs with zero return errors as the starting libero. Kylee Clarke had the second most digs with nine while also contributing 33 assists.

It was more of the same against Bemidji as Vigil led the team with 10 kills followed by Monck’s eight. Alvarez picked up 11 digs and the defense was buoyed by five blocks. Hali Ehresmann led the team with four block-assists followed by Monck and Vigil with two each and Miranda McConnell teamed up with Clarke on a key block in the first set.

“I hope that the players take confidence out of the two victories on Saturday,” Williams said about moving forward. “It is great to have some momentum rolling into the DII West Region Showcase. I would like for us to continue working on our team chemistry and continue to find our confidence out on the court. We are working on getting a couple more players healthy and hopefully they will get some court time this weekend.”

NUMBERS AND NOTES: The ‘Jackets have had their most success this season in the first set of matches where they have outscored opponents 100-82. They’ve scored 25 points in each of the four sets while going 3-1, the only loss being a 27-25 loss to Minot State. The 18-point scoring margin is also a best for the Yellowjackets.

Early in the season the newcomer laden ‘Jackets have shown the ability to make a run, as MSUB has built a five-point lead in eight of its 14 sets finishing those with a record of 7-1. On two occasions MSUB has rallied to 10-point leads and won both sets.

Newcomers figure to be a large part of the Yellowjackets’ success this season as four freshmen lead the team in the major stat categories. Monck and Vigil are tied for the team lead with 49 kills while Monck has the advantage with a .336 hitting percentage. Clarke has tallied the most assists with 126. Alvarez leads the way with 85 digs at a 6.07 digs per set pace. Monck and Ehresmann each account for five blocks just one ahead of junior-captain McConnell.

OPPONENT PREVIEW: MSUB competed in the DII West Region Volleyball Showcase last season finishing with an 0-4 record including losses to Humboldt State and Dominguez Hills. Last year the ‘Jackets took the Lumberjacks to a fifth set before taking the loss. In their final match of the tournament, MSUB dropped a 3-1 match to the Toros.

This season the ‘Jackets will start with a contest against Point Loma Nazarene. The Sea Lions come into the match winless after hosting the Seaside Invitational. Point Loma dropped a 3-2 match to Great Northwest Athletic Conference rival Alaska Anchorage to start the season and followed with a 3-1 loss to Simon Fraser. MSUB is 0-1 all-time against the Sea Lions with the teams’ only meeting coming in 2013 at Point Loma.

On Friday, MSUB will square off with CSU Dominguez Hills. The Toros enter the match with a 3-1 record after competing in the Concordia Portland Labor Day Tournament. Against GNAC opponents Concordia and Western Oregon, Dominguez Hills earned a split. The Toros started with a 3-1 win over the Wolves before falling to the host Cavaliers 3-2.

Game three will pit the Yellowjackets versus the Argonauts of Notre Dame De Namur. The Argos hosted their first four game in Belmont, Calif., where they went 1-3. The teams have faced twice before in 2008 and 2011, and both matches resulted in 3-1 wins for the ‘Jackets.

In their final match of the weekend the ‘Jackets play the ‘Jacks of Humboldt State. MSUB is winless in four attempts against HSU with last season’s loss being the closest match. The Lumberjacks split a two-game series at home against the Academy of Art last weekend.

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