(MSUB Athletics release)
BILLINGS – After a pair of home losses over the weekend, the Montana State University Billings volleyball team is looking to get back on track on the road this week. On Tuesday, the Yellowjackets travel across town to play a match against non-conference rival Rocky Mountain College at 7 p.m. at Fortin Center in Billings. After Rocky Mountain College, the team will head west for Great Northwest Athletic Conference bouts against Seattle Pacific on Thursday September 20 at 7:30 p.m. PT, then Saint Martin’s University on Saturday at 7 p.m. PT.
“We are looking forward to getting back to playing ‘Jacket volleyball,” said head coach Casey Williams. “The team has been working hard in practice and they are ready for three tough opponents this week.”
The Yellowjackets schedule has been difficult so far. Through twelve matches, only one has been played in the friendly confines of Alterowitz Gymnasium.
LAST TIME OUT: The Yellowjackets suffered a 3-0 loss to Alaska Fairbanks Saturday afternoon at home to extend their losing streak to six. Alaska outpaced the ‘Jackets on offense and hit .240 compared to .151 for MSUB. Despite the loss, Montana State Billings had some positive attributes to draw on. Maddi Vigil and Bayli Monck led the way with nine kills apiece. Vigil also narrowly missed earning her ninth double-double by a single kill while she tallied 11 digs. Izela Alvarez made 12 digs and Kylee Clarke was the team’s leading setter with 21 assists.
Scouting the Battlin’ Bears (13-1, 2-1 Frontier)
Game Day: Tuesday, September 18 – 7 p.m.
2017 Record: 23-11 (9-3 Frontier), 6-2 home, 7-3 away
Head Coach: Laurie Kelly (10th season)
Recording a win to gain supremacy in Billings will not be an easy task for MSUB on Tuesday. Rocky Mountain College is ranked sixth among NAIA schools nationally and they extended their current win streak to twelve on Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Carroll College. The Battlin’ Bears opened the match with a 25-22 first set win, but flipped that result in the second frame. The team rebounded to take the next two sets 25-19, and 25-16.
The Battlin’ Bears roster is composed of four seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, and 10 freshmen. Seven players have seen time on the floor in all 48 sets this fall including Hailey Copinga, Daniella Russell, Ruby Kallenbach, Annie Cooke, Natalie Hilderman, Miranda Gallagher, and Olivia L’Ami. Russell leads the squad with 136 kills and holds a .245 hitting percentage. Rocky Mountain’s attack is spread out with Hailey Copinga (124 kills) and Olivia L’Ami (129 kills) each contributing major minutes on the front line.
On defense, Kallenbach has had a sizeable workload. She averages 4.56 digs per set for a total of 219. Krista Judisch (129), Copinga (155), Cooke (139), and Hilderman (151) are also above the 100 mark in total digs.
Hilderman is the Battlin’ Bears primary setter with 463 assists (9.65 per set). Rocky Mountain College played Alaska Anchorage in a scrimmage earlier this month, but the Yellowjackets are its’ first official NCAA Division II opponent this fall.
In 2017, Rocky Mountain College made their fifth trip in six years to the NAIA National Tournament. The team has won the Frontier Conference Championship each of the last three seasons. Three seniors on last year’s roster were also named NAIA All-Americans.
Montana State Billings leads Rocky Mountain College 37-21 all-time head-to-head. The teams last met on October 24, 2017 and the Battlin’ Bears shutout MSUB 3-0. Rocky Mountain posted another 3-0 win over the ‘Jackets last season in September.
Scouting the Falcons (5-6, 3-1 GNAC)
Game Day: Thursday, September 20 – 7:30 p.m. PT
2017 Record: 15-13 (10-10 GNAC), 4-6 home, 7-5 away
Head Coach: Abbie Wright (2nd season)
The Falcons are coming off a 15-13 campaign that saw them finish above a .500 win percentage for the first time since 2013. Leading returners include All-GNAC first-team outside hitter Gabby Oddo, along with two-time honorable mention setter Symone Tran. Oddo, a junior, hammered 396 kills last fall, the most ever by a Falcon sophomore. Her 3.50 kills per set average was also No. 7 in the conference. Tran began the season sitting in No. 5 on SPU’s all time assists list with 3,903. Last year she ranked No. 3 in the GNAC at 10.32 assists per match. Middle blocker Shaun Crespi and libero Amanda Ganete join Tran and Oddo in the group of returning seniors. The Seattle Pacific roster also features Nicole Tchabanov in the middle. Tchabanov posted 90 blocks last year, including 12 solo blocks. Junior Mallie Donohue was a very strong defensive specialist in 2017. She played 110 sets and made 264 total digs.
Among the three Falcon newcomers, Hailey Gaines is a left-handed opposite who transferred from Concordia Irvine in the off-season. Gaines has 79 kills in 38 sets so far this fall (2.08 kills per set) along with a .142 hitting percentage.
Seattle Pacific has hit their stride at a good time of the year and won their last three matches, all against GNAC opponents. Last time out, the Falcons shutout Concordia (Portland) at home 25-14, 25-20, 25-23. Jaedan Hooker, Oddo, and Gaines all made double-digit kills for SPU, helping the team win their last nine sets dating back to Saturday’s four-set win at Simon Fraser. The win for SPU also halted Concordia’s four match win streak and dealt the Vikings their first conference loss of the season.
Seattle Pacific was projected to finish sixth in the GNAC preseason coaches’ poll, three positions ahead of the Yellowjackets. The Falcons lead the all-time series between the two teams 30-11. The last time MSUB defeated Seattle Pacific on the road was November 1, 2014. SPU won the last matchup on October 28, 2017 in Seattle 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-14). This was after the Falcons won a five-set affair in Billings earlier in the season.
Scouting the Saints (2-8, 0-4 GNAC)
Game Day: Saturday, September 22 – 7 p.m. PT
2017 Record: 9-19 (4-16 GNAC), 6-8 home, 1-10 away
Head Coach: Jon Killingbeck (3rd season)
Saint Martin’s enters the week on a five-match losing streak with 3-1 losses to Western Oregon and Concordia (Oregon) over the last seven days. The Saints have a young roster composed of four seniors, two juniors, one sophomore, and seven freshmen. They are led by senior right side/outside hitter Megan Vernoy (Brentwood, Calif.) who has 128 kills and a .261 hitting percentage. Vernoy averages 3.95 points per game and has 16 service aces along with six assists.
Senior Rachel Gondrezick is also an offensive leader for SMU. Gondrezick has 101 kills on 358 attacks for a .145 hitting percentage to go along with eight service aces and six assists. Two players have posted strong back row numbers for the Saints. Courtney Misner leads the squad with 184 digs (4.84 digs per set) while Gondrezick has posted 100 digs (2.63 digs per set) to go along with her strong offensive numbers.
The Yellowjackets took both matchups against Saint Martins in 2017. Their last match was October 26 in Lacey, Washington which resulted in a five set duel. MSUB won a close final set 15-11. Montana State Billings is now 19-5 all-time against the Saints and 5-5 over their last ten matches.
The Saints nine wins in 2017 set a new school record, along with four wins in GNAC play.
DIGGING OUT: Despite the recent struggles, the ‘Jackets have received strong defensive performances this fall from several players. Sophomore libero Izela Alvarez leads the team in digs with 210 (4.67 per set) and is 9th in the GNAC in the category. Alvarez set an MSUB single season record in her freshman season with 622 digs surpassing the previous record held by Erin Compton (2012). Maddi Vigil and Bayli Monck have also eclipsed the 100 digs mark for MSUB and Taylor Sherman is not far behind with 85.
JUST ACES: Bayli Monck ranks tied for 27th in NCAA Division II for total service aces with 20. Izela Alverez is tied for 41st in the same category with 19 total service aces. Alvarez added one ace to her total over the weekend against Alaska Anchorage while Monck remained at 20.
MSUB STANDOUT STATS: MSUB has lost 15 of their last 16 sets and team hitting percentage stands as a probable indicator why. MSUB ranks last in the GNAC with a .121 hitting percentage, just behind Saint Martin’s (.127). One big success so far is the ‘Jackets has been blocking. The team average is .246 blocks per set, behind only No. 13 Western Washington and Central Washington.
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.
CONFERENCE CORNER: Western Washington is the only remaining undefeated team in the conference at 4-0. Four teams are close behind at 3-1 and MSU Billings and Saint Martin’s are tied for last at 0-4. Despite their conference struggles, MSUB made the most of their non-conference tournament schedule and have the fifth best overall record (6-6) among GNAC schools. Western Washington continued to keep their top 25 ranking, coming in at No. 13 in the Division II AVCA coaches’ poll last week.
Eve Stephens (Alaska Anchorage, MB, 6-1, Fr.) was named GNAC offensive player of the week. Stephens led the Seawolves with 21 kills over Alaska and her .656 hitting percentage in the match is among the best in GNAC history. Shaun Crespi (Seattle Pacific, MB, 6-2, Sr.) was tabbed for defensive GNAC player of the week. She managed 11 blocks and 11 kills in a Falcon sweep over two Oregon schools.
SEASON FROM AFAR: The Yellowjackets (6-6, 0-4) are nearing the halfway point in the season. They have 12 completed matches and 18 left to play in the regular season. Rocky Mountain College is their final non-conference. The final match of 2018 before the playoffs is November 10 against Western Oregon.
Live video and statistics will be available for all MSUB home matches and all GNAC road contests throughout the 2017 season