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MSU Billings seeks to bounce back Thursday

Posted at 9:41 PM, Sep 05, 2018
(MSUB Athletics photo)

(MSU Billings release)

BILLINGS – Looking to build on a strong 6-2 start, the Montana State University Billings volleyball team leads off its’ Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) schedule with a pair of road matches this week. Opponents include Western Oregon on Thursday, September 6 at 2 p.m. PT and Concordia (Ore.) on Saturday, September 8 at 7 p.m. PT.

“I am looking forward to building on the success that we had through preseason,” said head coach Casey Williams. “I think that we have found a solid lineup and should be ready to take on a couple of conference opponents. Both WOU and CU are scrappy teams and we are expecting the both matches to be defensive battles.”

The Yellowjackets’ trip to the Pacific West ends what has been a strenuous stretch of ten straight matches away from Billings. However, despite the difficulty of schedule, MSUB already has four more road wins then they achieved all season in 2017.

LAST TIME OUT: The Yellowjackets began the season 6-0 but lost their two most recent matches on Saturday, resulting in a 2-2 finish in the GNAC/PacWest crossover tournament in San Francisco. On Saturday morning, California State University Dominguez Hills defeated MSUB 3-1 (25-14, 25-22, 16-25, 25-16). The ‘Jackets made eight kills on 27 attacks in the first set and could not overcome errors the rest of the way. Izela Alvarez made 26 digs and Kylee Clarke recorded 40 assists.

University of Hawai’i at Hilo swept the Yellowjackets for the first time in 2018 Saturday evening, resulting in a 3-0 (25-17, 25-13, 25-15) score line. Again MSUB could not find rhythm offensively and made 27 attack errors compared to just 18 kills.

Scouting the Wolves (3-5, 0-1 GNAC)

Thursday, September 6 – 7:00 p.m. PT

2017 Record: 7-20, 3-17 GNAC

Head Coach: Tommy Gott (2nd season)

Western Oregon was plagued by injuries last season and only three players appeared in all 27 matches. This season, the team is focusing on staying healthy. The Wolves dropped their opening conference match to Concordia (Ore.) on Tuesday night at home 3-1 (25-19, 24-26, 25-22, 20-25). Mariella Vandenkooy paced WOU with 10 kills and was followed by Marlie Norman (9), Morgan Haskett (8), and Sophie Hall (7).

Vandenkooy leads the team with 81 total kills and a .176 hitting percentage. Wolves’ setter Leila Holt has 17 service aces in 26 sets. Her 0.67 aces per set ranks her 28th in NCAA Division II.

The Wolves have four freshmen this fall to compliment four seniors, two juniors, and three sophomores. Seniors’ Holt and Maddie Mehciz both finished inside the GNAC’s top 15 in assists last year. The pair also averaged more than 2.0 digs per set, combining for 381 digs on the season.

The Yellowjackets split the season series with the Wolves 1-1 in 2017. On October 7, Western Oregon shutout MSUB 3-0 in Monmouth. The ‘Jackets were undone by 18 attacking errors and a .056 hitting percentage. Back in Billings on November 2, the ‘Jackets took down the Wolves 16-14 in the fifth set. Four attackers reached double figures including current players Maddi Vigil and Bayli Monck.

The Yellowjackets are 8-18 all-time against the Wolves and 3-7 since 2013. Tommy Gott is in his second season as head coach at Western Oregon after a seven year stint as assistant coach at California State University, Chico.

Scouting the Cavaliers (4-4, 1-0 GNAC)

Saturday, September 8 – 2:00 p.m.

2017 Record: 13-14, 8-12 GNAC

Head Coach: Melanie Hambelton (11th season)

Concordia (Ore.) played a full slate of matches over the course of last week. The Cavaliers opened GNAC play with a road win over Western Oregon 3-1 on Tuesday. Tori Johnson led the Cavs with 15 kills to go along with her .367 hitting percentage. Callie Wilkins had 26 digs while Faith Bowman had 10 to lead the way for CU.

The Cavaliers also had four matches over the weekend as part of the D2 West Region Volleyball Showcase. There, they suffered losses against Point Loma Nazarene (3-0), CSU Monterey Bay (3-0), and RV Cal State Los Angeles (3-1) but rebounded for a win against Dominican University of California 3-1 in San Rafael, California.

Concordia features a balanced roster made up of four seniors, three juniors, one sophomore, and nine freshmen. Seven players are also Oregon natives. As a team, the Cavaliers have a .151 attack percentage and average 11.4 kills per set. The team also averages 17.6 digs per set, 2.0 blocks per set, and 1.6 service aces per set.

Johnson leads the Cavs in most offensive categories, with 51 kills and a .151 hitting percentage. Camille Guerrero is right behind with 50 kills and a .156 hitting percentage, despite playing just 23 sets. Callie Wilkins leads the defense, averaging 5.96 digs per set for a total of 167. Middle blocker Elyssa Rose has 21.0 total blocks on the front line.

Montana State Billings has struggled historically against Concordia, going 0-6 all-time since the two first met in 2015. Last season, the Cavaliers defeated MSUB 3-0 on October 5 in Oregon, then 3-2 in Billings on September 7. In the latter, Concordia outlasted the Yellowjackets 15-12 in the fifth set. Despite the loss, Monck recorded a team best .296 hitting percentage on 11 kills and Vigil hit .286 on 13 kills.

Melanie Hambelton is a Concordia University school record holder with 155 career wins as head coach. The Cavaliers had three players earn all-GNAC honors in 2017 including Lindsey Dorsey (first team), Colby Barnette (honorable mention), and Michele Brown (honorable mention).

STAYING ‘VIGIL-ENT: Maddi Vigil, one of six players to have appeared in every set so far for the Yellowjackets continues to lead the way in kills for MSUB with 85. She has averaged 2.66 kills per set and 258 total attacks on the MSUB front line. In addition to her kill pedigree, Vigil has added four assists, and ten service aces to help pace the ‘Jackets offense.

TAYLOR MADE: MSUB freshman Eavan Taylor was named to the Showcase All-Tourney Team for her strong performance in the GNAC/PacWest crossover tournament last weekend. Taylor, last week’s GNAC Co-Offensive Player of the Week, led a 2-2 weekend for Montana State Billings as she finished with 22 kills and 19 blocks, averaging 1.27 blocks per set. She came up big in the Yellowjackets’ five-set win at San Francisco State, finishing with six kills and eight blocks.

ACUMEN FOR ACES: Serving continues to be a strength of the Yellowjackets so far this season. Montana State Billings ranks tied for 2nd among NCAA Division II schools with 70 total service aces, equal with Findlay College and just behind Kentucky Wesleyan, who leads the nation with 77. MSUB averages 2.19 aces per set through 32 sets, ranking them 30th. Monck leads the team in the ace category with 19, ranking 7th in Division II for total aces. Alvarez is ranked right behind her in 8th with 18 total aces.

TRIP TO THE ARCHIVES: The Yellowjackets six-match win streak to begin the season was impressive but not unheard of in the history of MSUB volleyball. The last time the Yellowjackets began a season 6-0 was 2011 and the longest win streak in program history is 12 in a row, achieved in 2006. The 2006 squad also had a win streak of 10 in a row within the same season.

ROAD WARRIORS: MSUB volleyball begins the season with 10 straight road contests in 2018 (excluding scrimmages). After returning home for a pair of matches against Alaska Anchorage and Alaska, they head back out for five more away matches which will include Rocky Mountain College, Seattle Pacific, Saint Martin’s, Simon Fraser, and Western Washington. As a result of the first half travel, the second half schedule will be much friendlier. The ‘Jackets finish the year with nine of 12 matches in the confines of Alterowitz Gymnasium.

TEAM SNAPSHOT: MSUB has nine returning letter winners from last season and three roster newcomers. The team finished 9-21 (5-15 GNAC, 9th) in 2017.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Concordia (Ore.) and Western Oregon played the only conference match so far this season as most teams competed in various tournaments in the western United States over the weekend. Other GNAC players selected to the D2 West Region Volleyball Showcase All-Tournament Team included Kayleigh Harper (Western Washington), Abby Phelps (Western Washington), Makala Swart (Central Washington), Shelby Mauritson (Central Washington), Tessa May (Simon Fraser), and Mariella Vandenkooy (Western Oregon). Alaska Anchorage and Western Washington are tied for the best overall record among GNAC teams with identical 6-1 marks. Montana State Billings is right behind at 6-2.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Live video and statistics will be available for all MSUB home matches and all GNAC road contests throughout the 2017 season