(MSUB Athletics photo)

(Editor’s note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – Home again, the Yellowjackets (5-8, 1-3 Great Northwest Athletic Conference) have only played two home games in their first 13 matches of the season but this week begins a stretch with nine of MSUB’s next 13 games being played in Alterowitz Gym. They start with Seattle Pacific University (8-5, 3-2 GNAC) on Thursday at 7 p.m. and continue with Saint Martin’s University (6-7, 1-4 GNAC) Saturday at 7 p.m.

LAST TIME OUT: MSUB went 0-2 in GNAC play last week as they traveled to No. 13 Western Washington University and Simon Fraser.

Against the Vikings, the ‘Jackets fell 3-0 (25-19, 25-14, 25-16) at WWU. Izela Alvarez picked up 23 digs in the match while sophomore Taylor Sherman contributed 14 digs for the Yellowjackets. Maddi Vigil led the MSUB attack with nine kills while hitting .304. Alexa Smythe started at setter and tallied 17 assists for MSUB.

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In Burnaby, B.C., MSUB opened with a first-set victory but Simon Fraser rallied to win three consecutive sets and the match 3-1 (23-25, 25-22, 25-19, 25-20). Vigil was again the top attacker for the ‘Jackets with 13 kills followed by junior Miranda McConnell who added 11 kills. Kylee Clarke set the offense and notched 37 assists throughout the four sets. Alvarez landed three aces and added 19 digs for the ‘Jackets.



243 MORE TO GO: Libero Izela Alvarez has accumulated 257 digs through 13 games and 45 sets this season with an average 5.71 digs per set which ranks 25th in the nation. If the ‘Jackets played the minimum of three sets through their remaining 17 games while Alvarez continued her GNAC-leading pace, the freshman would finish with 548 digs on the season. The feat would make her the second player in program history to reach the 500 dig plateau behind Erin Compton’s record of 577. At her current pace, it would only take Alvarez 56 sets to tie the record while the Yellowjackets a guaranteed to play 51 sets in the remaining schedule.

FIRST SET IS A CHARM: The Yellowjackets are 5-2 when winning the first set this season compared to 0-6 when losing the opening game. In those five wins, the ‘Jackets have gone on to sweep their opponent four times. MSUB has scored 295 points in the first set this year, more than any other set while holding opponents to their lowest total of any set at 296. The Yellowjackets have only won the second set four times, all after winning the opening set and all four have led to sweeps.

WHAT ARE THE ODDS: Building off of a 7-6 record in the first set this season the ‘Jackets have an identical record in the third set and are an even 1-1 in the fifth set. The 15-13 record in the odd sets are in stark contrast to MSUB’s woes in the even sets where they carry a 4-13 mark this season. MSUB has yet to win a fourth set this season in four chances.

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE YOUTH: Alvarez is not the only Yellowjacket freshman to make her way into the top-10 of GNAC statistical categories. Along with having the top average for digs in the conference, Alvarez ranks 10th in aces per set at .33 with her team-leading 15 this season. Kylee Clarke currently ranks fifth in the conference with 9.62 assists per set while Maddi Vigil has used those sets to accumulate 144 kills with the seventh best pace in the GNAC at 3.27 per set. Vigil also ranks ninth in points at 3.61 per set. Bayli Monck has also been a force in her first season with 2.96 kills and 3.33 points per set which rank 12th and 14th among GNAC athletes.

GNAC PACK: The GNAC has established its self as a deep conference with three national contenders so far this season. No. 12 Northwest Nazarene leads the conference with a flawless 12-0, 4-0 GNAC record with wins over Simon Fraser, No. 10 Western Washington, Western Oregon and Concordia. No. 21 Alaska Anchorage is also 4-0 in the conference after picking up four losses early in the season. Western Washington holds the top national-ranking in the conference at No. 10 with all three of their losses coming to ranked opponents.



Seattle Pacific University Falcons: SPU started its season with tournaments in Honolulu, Hawaii and Monmouth, Ore., where the Falcons earned a 5-3 record before GNAC play began. They started conference play with a home loss to Concordia 3-1, before gaining a sweep of Western Oregon in their second GNAC game.

Last week they traveled to Alaska and earned a 3-2 win over the University of Alaska and lost a 3-1 match to No. 20 Alaska Anchorage.

Sophomore outside hitter Gabby Oddo leads the Falcon’s offense with 172 kills and averaging 3.25 kills per set, which ranks ninth in the GNAC. Freshman Olivia Turner is SPU’s second option with 153 kills averaging 2.94 per set. Symone Tran is fourth in the GNAC averaging 9.69 assists per set for the Falcon’s attack.

Defensively, Amanda Ganete shoulders the load as Seattle Pacific’s libero with 4.26 digs per set, 10th in the GNAC. Ganete finished last season with the fifth most digs in the conference with 511. Nicole Tchabanov leads the Falcons with 46 blocks including eight solo blocks this season.

Abbie Wright is in her first season as head coach of Seattle Pacific after spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach at Biola University in Los Angeles, Calif. She was named the NAIA Assistant Coach of the Year in 2015 as Biola earned its first-ever No. 1 national ranking.

Saint Martin’s University Saints: The Saints are currently on a three-game losing streak as SMU has had to travel to both Alaska schools before heading to Seattle for Tuesday’s match. They started their season by going 5-3 in tournament play and opened conference with two home matches against Western Oregon University, a 3-0 loss and Concordia, a 3-1 win.

Senior Rebecca Mitchell is a force on the Saint’s offense as the Gresham, Ore. native is fifth in the conference with 3.73 kills per set for a total of 179 this season. She also places sixth with 4.03 points per set for SMU. Another senior, Nicolette Nesbitt is sixth in the GNAC with a 9.30 assist average.

On the other side of the net, freshman Kamille Langford is averaging 1.05 blocks per set which ranks ninth in the GNAC. Saint Martin’s has shared the burden on the back row as they have three players in the top-20 for digs this season. Junior Courtney Misner leads the Saints with 3.78 digs per set followed by Hannah Neumann with 3.38 and Mitchell 3.35.

Jon Killingbeck is in his second season with the Saints after going 6-18 in his first season at the helm. The Central Washington University alumnus, spent the previous five seasons as the head coach at Iona College.

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.