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MSU Billings opens road swing Friday

Posted at 4:41 PM, Sep 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-28 18:41:20-04

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – Montana State University Billings volleyball is hoping to create a positive trend this week after picking up a galvanizing win Saturday against Saint Martin’s University in five sets. The Yellowjackets will have to do it away from Alterowitz Gymnasium however as they travel to face Simon Fraser on Friday September 28 at 7 p.m. PT followed by No. 8 Western Washington on Saturday at 7 p.m. PT.

The schedule has been difficult for the ‘Jackets so far, with just two home matches, five away matches, and eight tournament matches held in neutral locations but this weekend presents an opportunity to create momentum as they progress toward the second half of the regular season.

“We get the opportunity to play two very competitive teams this week,” said head coach Casey Williams. “We have been playing very consistently in the last couple of weeks and I am looking forward to playing a high level of volleyball.”

If the ‘Jackets want to steal an upset against the No. 8 Western Washington Vikings (and conjure up the magic of 2014) they will need to eliminate attacking errors and get strong performances from their front line offensive leaders. One of the key players to watch is senior middle blocker Miranda McConnell. McConnell leads the team with a .310 hitting percentage and has 114 kills (3rd) versus 38 attack errors. MSUB is 6-2 when McConnell finishes with nine or more kills and just 1-6 when she does not.

The total kill category for the Yellowjackets is held up by Maddi Vigil. Vigil is a versatile player who has seven double-doubles this fall and 144 total kills which ranks 17th in the GNAC. Sophomore Alexa Smythe (Phoenix, Arizona) has been setting the ball for Vigil and McConnell lately and has 144 assists over her last three matches. Smythe also picked up her first career double-double on Friday night against Seattle Pacific with 17 digs and 42 assists.

LAST TIME OUT: The Yellowjackets squeezed out a 15-13 fifth set win over Saint Martin’s Saturday night in Lacey, Washington. Bayli Monck had 14 kills and 16 digs for her third career-double double and Skylar Reed led the team with 15 kills and a .333 hitting percentage. Middle blocker Eavan Taylor helped the team win by posting two solo blocks and four block assists. The victory snapped the ‘Jackets eight match losing skid and propelled them ahead of Saint Martin’s in the conference standings to ninth.

CRITICAL KILLS: The Yellowjackets struggled over the course of the losing streak to win points in clutch moments and were 4-13 in sets decided by five points or less heading into Saturday’s match against Saint Martin’s. Then, MSUB turned the tables by winning sets four and five within the five point threshold 25-21 and 15-13. In the final set, McConnell made a kill to put MSUB in the lead 13-12. After an attack error by SMU, Riley Moore cashed in on a mid-court kill on set point to seal victory for the ‘Jackets.

FRONT LINE FORCE: Freshman Eavan Taylor continued to improve at middle blocker for the Yellowjackets over the weekend. Taylor had 13 combined blocks against Seattle Pacific and Saint Martin’s and currently leads the team with nine solo blocks and 55 block assists this fall. Taylor won GNAC offensive player of the week on August 20 and has continued to prove her capability in multiple statistical categories.

Scouting the Clan (6-6, 3-3 GNAC)
Game Day: Friday, September 28 – 7 p.m. PT
2017 Record: 15-13, 12-8 GNAC, (2-2 home, 1-1 away)
Head Coach: Gina Schmidt (6th season)

Simon Fraser split a pair of matches over the weekend. The Clan lost to Alaska Anchorage on Friday 3-1, then rebounded to defeat Alaska Fairbanks 3-0 at home. In contrast to MSU Billings, the Clan have not had a winning streak or losing streak longer than two matches this season.

Simon Fraser features a balanced roster, which consists of three seniors, six juniors, two sophomores, and six freshmen. Three players have started all twelve matches including senior middle blocker Tessa May, junior outside hitter Betsie de Beer and sophomore setter Julia Tays.

May leads the Clan offense with 142 kills (3.16 per set) and is hitting .352 on the year, which ranks No. 1 in the GNAC. She recorded 16 kills and two errors against both Fresno Pacific and Central Washington. A majority of kills for the Clan have come from May (142), Kirsten Pinkney (137), and de Beer (132). The trio have been set up by Tays, who averages 10.48 assists per set (3rd GNAC).

Jayme Bratsburg has 194 digs (4.31 digs per set) and ranks 12th best in the conference. As a team, the Clan ranks third in team hitting percentage behind only conference leading Western Washington and Central Washington. The team is also second in assists (577), third in kills (13.49), ninth in blocks (1.60), and fourth in digs (18.00).

Service aces will almost certainly factor in Friday night’s match. Simon Fraser ranks No. 1 in the GNAC with 1.78 service aces per set, just edging out No. 2 MSU Billings (1.75).

The Yellowjackets are 6-12 all-time against the Clan (4-4 home, 2-7 away, 0-1 neutral) and have not defeated Simon Fraser since 2013. SFU has won the last nine matchups between the two teams and MSUB lost its’ last meeting 3-1 on October 20, 2017 in Billings.

Scouting the Vikings (11-3, 6-0 GNAC)
Game Day: Saturday, September 29 – 7 p.m.
2017 Record: 27-4, 19-1 GNAC, (10-0 home, 10-1 away)
Head Coach: Diane Flick-Williams (19th season)

Perennial GNAC power Western Washington is off to another impressive start in the 2018 season. They have climbed to No. 7 in the AVCA national coaches poll (up one position) released September 24 and are riding an 11 match win streak dating back to August 25 against Western Florida. Against GNAC competition, the Vikings have lost just two sets and recorded shutout victories over Alaska Fairbanks, Central Washington, Northwest Nazarene, and Saint Martins.

On Saturday the Vikings seized a four-set win over Alaska Anchorage 25-23, 18-25, 25-13, 25-11. Middle blocker Kayleigh Harper recorded 14 kills and six blocks and outside hitter Abby Phelps had a double-double with 11 kills and 19 digs.

Harper recently earned her third volleyball weekly award of the season. She was awarded GNAC Volleyball Offensive Player of the Week after finishing with 27 kills, 15 blocks and a .354 hitting percentage in the two wins. The Oak Harbor, Washington native finished with 10 kills, nine blocks and a .444 hitting percentage in Thursday’s win over Alaska and added six blocks in Saturday’s win over Alaska Anchorage.

Harper could be considered the front runner for GNAC player of the year and has had an outstanding fall despite not participating in any competition in 2017. She was named first team all-conference both as a sophomore and as a freshman.

Western Washington excels in blocking and ranks No. 4 in the nation with 2.93 per set. Harper is No. 1 in the GNAC in the category with 1.70 blocks per set and No. 2 in the nation. Michaela Hall is tied for No. 2 in the GNAC at 1.50 and has a total of 24.0.

The Vikings are firmly in front of the Yellowjackets in the all-time head-to-head series, leading 24-1. Montana State Billings upended WWU (ranked No. 11 at the time) 3-2 in Billings on September 27, 2014.

Vikings head coach Diane Flick-Williams had guided Western Washington to 20 or more victories 13 times and the team has qualified for the NCAA Division II tournament the last six consecutive years.

JUST ACES: Izela Alvarez is tied for No. 39 in NCAA Division II for total service aces with 22. Three Yellowjackets are in the GNAC top 15 in service aces per set including No. 2 Smythe (0.67), No. 10 Taylor Sherman (0.35), and No. 13 Kylee Clarke (0.33). MSU Billings is tied for fifth in the GNAC with Alaska Anchorage in aces per set (1.26).

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.

BIG PICTURE: The Yellowjackets are tied for ninth place in the GNAC, but are just one win short of Western Oregon and Northwest Nazarene for seventh. Western Washington remains the only undefeated team left in the conference. Central Washington and Seattle Pacific are tied for second at 5-1 and both have losses to the Vikings this season.

Concordia St. Paul (Minnesota) was voted No. 1 in the nation for Division II this week with 42 of 45 first place votes. Western Washington (7th) remained the only GNAC team in the top 25 but Central Washington also received votes.

WORTHLESS STAT: The Yellowjackets have begun 2018 one win better than last year, 7-8 (2018), 6-9 (2017). The last time MSUB started a season exactly 7-8 was 2012. That team went on to finish 11-15 overall, 8-10 in the GNAC.

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