(MSUB Athletics photo)

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – Bellingham, Wash. and Burnaby, B.C. are on the itinerary this weekend as the Montana State University Billings volleyball team (5-6, 1-1 GNAC) makes their first Great Northwest Athletic Conference road trip of the season. On Thursday the ‘Jackets will face the No. 13 team in the nation when they visit Sam Carver Gymnasium to take on the Western Washington Vikings (7-3, 2-1 GNAC). MSUB closes out the trip across the border when they face the Clan of Simon Fraser (3-8, 0-3) on Saturday.

LAST TIME OUT: The ‘Jackets dropped a 3-0 decision at Rocky Mountain College (11-5, 2-0 Frontier Conference) on Tuesday night. The MSUB offense never found its rhythm as no Yellowjacket finished with more than nine kills for the first time this season. Hali Ehresmann was the ‘Jackets best performer in the match with nine kills and four block assists. Izela Alvarez picked up 21 digs and improved her conference-leading average to 5.66 digs per set.

The Clan and No. 13 Vikings squared off on Tuesday in Bellingham, Wash. for a 3-1 (25-18, 22-25, 25-12, 25-17) WWU win. Western Washington hit .254 for the match and had a dominant .306 hitting percentage in the 25-12 third set.

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The ‘Jackets were 0-2 against both Western Washington and Simon Fraser in 2016.

NUMBERS AND NOTES

ALL FOR ALVAREZ: Libero Izela Alvarez led the Yellojackets in digs for the tenth time in eleven games on Tuesday night. The only match in which the freshman did not lead the ‘Jackets was in a 3-0 loss to Cal State, Dominguez Hills. Her 5.66 digs per set pace puts her on track for an MSUB record 586 digs this season. Alvarez would only be the second player in ‘Jackets history to record more than 500 digs in a year.

McCONNELL STEPPING UP: Junior Miranda McConnell has increased her role within the MSUB attack after overcoming an injury earlier in the year. In the ‘Jackets win over Alaska Fairbanks, McConnell tallied season-highs in kills (11) and block-assists (5). As one of two returners, McConnell’s familiarity with the GNAC will be crucial in the thick of the conference schedule.

EHRESMANN ESTABLISHING THE NET: The middle blocker from Olympia, Wash., has become a key facet to both the MSUB attack and defense this season. Ehresmann has recorded three or more block-assists in each of the last four games and leads the ‘Jackets with three solo blocks and 24 block-assists this season. On the attack, Ehresmann has shown a keen sense for where and when to go for the kill as she ranks second on the team with a .224 hitting percentage with 62 kills.

FRESHMEN IN THE FRONT: Along with Ehresmann, freshman right side Bayli Monck and freshman outside hitter Maddi Vigil have become the consistent beat of the Yellowjacket offense. Tuesday’s loss was the first game of the season in which Monck nor Vigil recorded the most kills for MSUB. In their place, it was Ehresmann who stepped up to provide the offense. The trio of freshmen rank first through third in kills, hitting percentage and points for the ‘Jackets. Only Seattle Pacific University and the University of Alaska have a single freshman as one of their top-three offensive options in the GNAC.

GNAC PACK: No. 16 Northwest Nazarene (10-0, 2-0 GNAC) has yet to lose a match and No. 20 Alaska Anchorage (7-4, 2-0 GNAC) won both of its conference matches to establish themselves at the top of the GNAC through one week. No. 13 Western Washington (8-3, 2-1) was saddled with a 3-1 loss by NNU on Saturday. Simon Fraser and Alaska are the only schools without a GNAC victory this season leaving the other six schools, including MSUB, sandwiched in the middle heading into the second weekend.

OPPONENT PREVIEW

No. 13 Western Washington: The Vikings boast the second most efficient offense in the GNAC with 14.07 kills per set while hitting .250 in 42 sets this season. WWU tops the conference in digs per set 18.79 and is second in the GNAC with 2.26 blocks per set.

Western Washington has earned wins over conference rivals Simon Fraser 3-1 and Central Washington 3-1 to start the season with their only GNAC loss coming at Northwest Nazarene 3-1.

Juniors Michaela Hall and two-time All-GNAC performer Abby Phelps power the WWU offense with Hall hitting .341 on her 122 kills and Phelps leading the Vikings attack with 3.81 kills per set for a total of 160. Another junior, Brette Boesel keeps the attack moving with her 11.43 assists per set, which ranks second in the GNAC.

Phelps is also a top contributor on the defensive side of the net with 4.42 digs per set to lead the Vikings. Sophomore Joslyn Bopray is fifth in the GNAC with 1.19 blocks per set on the WWU front line.

Western Washington is led by 18th-year head coach Diane Flick-Williams who is the most prolific coach in program history with a record of 367-99 and averaging more than 21 wins per season during her tenure. Under her leadership the Vikings have made 11 postseason appearances and seven GNAC championships.

Simon Fraser: The Clan has relied on defense in the early season as the Simon Fraser offense ranks last in the conference in kills and hitting percentage to this point. SFU ranks third with 18.02 digs per set while their 2 blocks per set put them fifth in the GNAC.

Simon Fraser has had a tough start to GNAC play as the Clan have faced current No. 16 Northwest Nazarene, Central Washington and No. 13 WWU all on the road. SFU is 1-10 in the first set of matches this season with their only win coming in a sweep of Sonoma State University.

Junior Tessa May, an All-GNAC performer in 2016, is the most efficient SFU attacker with a hitting percentage of .280 on 80 kills. Kirsten Pinkney has the most kills for the Clan with 101 in 36 sets. A freshman setter, Julia Tays has accumulated 233 assists for the Simon offense with a 6.3 assists per set average ranking seventh in the conference.

Libero Jayme Bratsberg has the third best dig average in the conference with 5 per set while sophomore Katie Dolguikh is 16th in the GNAC with 3.39 digs per set. May also tops the Clan in blocks with 1.2 per set, good enough for fourth in the conference.

Gina Schmidt is in her fifth year at the head of the program at Simon Fraser. In her second season at the helm she led the Clan to their first winning season since joining the NCAA with a record of 17-9, 11-7 GNAC. She has led the team to winning seasons in every year since, including last year’s 21-8, 14-6 GNAC record.

FOLLOW LIVE: Live video and statistics will be available for all MSUB home matches and all GNAC road contests throughout the 2017 season, through MSUB’s Stretch Internet portal.

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