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MSU Billings to open 5-match homestand Thursday

Posted at 3:12 PM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 17:12:37-04

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – Having completed a trip to Alaska for a pair of matches, the Montana State University Billings volleyball team returns home this week to begin a five-match homestand at Alterowitz Gymnasium. A familiar setting will be a welcome sign as the Yellowjackets begin to come down the stretch toward the end of the regular season.

The longest homestand of the year will start Thursday, October 18 when the ‘Jackets play Saint Martin’s University for the second time this season at 7 p.m. Then an afternoon affair will commence on Saturday October 20 versus Seattle Pacific University at 2 p.m. 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. For tickets call the MSUB Athletics Department of purchase at the door on game night.

The Yellowjackets (9-12, 3-9 GNAC) are currently ninth in the Great Northwest Athletic Contest and have struggled on the road against conference foes. However, the team is even at 2-2 at Alterowitz Gymnasium and has an opportunity to stockpile wins in the second half of the schedule, with seven of its’ final nine matches held in Billings.

LAST TIME OUT: Making the annual trip to Alaska can prove difficult for any GNAC team and the Yellowjackets’ most recent road trip was no different. MSUB suffered a five set defeat on Thursday against Alaska Fairbanks, then they were swept 3-0 against Alaska Anchorage on Saturday. The Yellowjackets struggled to find consistency and hit a combined .160 in the two matches. Conversely, the Seawolves hit over .400 in two of three sets Saturday to run away with the match.

Despite the lack of team success in Alaska, the ‘Jackets did receive a strong performance by Skylar Reed Thursday and Izela Alvarez both nights. Reed posted 17 kills and limited errors to just three against the Nanooks and Alvarez made 24 digs against Alaska, then added 10 more against Alaska Anchorage.

KILLIN’ IT: Six MSUB players are over the 100 kill mark for the season, led by sophomore Maddi Vigil (215, 19th GNAC). The others include Bayli Monck (162), Miranda McConnell (147), Eavan Taylor (117), Riley Moore (128), and Skylar Reed (104).

Alexa Smythe will be another player to watch Thursday night. Smythe remained atop the GNAC for service aces per set (0.52) with 23 combined.

Alvarez is beginning to put up numbers similar to her impressive freshman campaign and is currently ninth in the GNAC in digs per set at 4.46 through 84 sets played.

MCCONNELL CLIMBS THE CHARTS: Senior middle blocker Miranda McConnell continues her ascent toward the top of the MSUB career block assist leaderboard. With 234 block assists over four seasons, she is currently No. 4 and is on pace to be close to No. 3 by the end of her 2018 campaign. In addition to blocking, McConnell is just two sets from reaching top-ten status for career sets played and she currently has 250.

DIGGING OUT: Sophomore libero Izela Alverez made 622 digs last year and set a new single season MSUB record. This season, Alvarez was off to a slightly slower pace but has been very strong in the back row lately and has 375 digs, once again leading the team. Over her last four matches, Alvarez has 89 digs and has averaged 22.25 digs per match. The Yellowjackets are 2-2 over the stretch.

REMAINING SCHEDULE: Nine matches are left in the 2018 regular season for MSUB volleyball. In the GNAC conference, one team receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II tournament and traditionally, the next three to five teams with the best record in the conference clinch a berth to the tournament based on strength of schedule.

Although a trip to the post-season is very unlikely for the ‘Jackets this season, they do have a good chance of finishing with a .500 record or better overall. Montana State Billings finished 9-21 overall in 2017 and with nine wins already this year, they need just a single victory to eclipse last season’s mark.

FULL CONTRIBUTION: Every player on Casey Williams’ roster has contributed at least seven sets of playing time this season. Alvarez, Vigil, Sherman, Taylor, and McConnell have played all 84 sets with Bayli Monck not far behind at 82. Skylar Reed and Riley Moore have received more playing time in the middle part of the season and bench contributions have come from Katie Campbell and Keira Larsen. Smythe and Clarke continue to split time at setter for MSUB.

WHERE MSUB RANKS: The Yellowjackets have improved slightly to sixth in the GNAC in hitting percentage at .165. They are also ninth in assists (10.75 per set), ninth in kills (11.18 per set), eighth in blocks (.1.82 per set), fourth in service aces (1.57 per set), and ninth in digs (15.39 per set).

Scouting Saint Martin’s University

Game Day: Thursday, October 18 – 7 p.m.
2018 Record: 3-15, 1-11 GNAC, 0-5 home, 1-8 away, 2-2 neutral
2017 Record: 9-19, 4-16 GNAC, 6-8 home, 1-10 away, 2-1 neutral
Head Coach: Jon Killingbeck (3rd season)

Saint Martin’s University came into last weekend with 11 straight losses but rallied to beat Western Oregon University 3-2 in Monmouth Thursday night. Megan Vernoy and Iliani Kamaka combined for 36 kills and carried the Saints to their first win of the season 25-14, 17-25, 21-25, 25-15, 15-13. The Saint’s also used 14 aces and 73 digs in the match. On Saturday, SMU lost to Concordia (Ore.) in four sets 25-15, 25-22, 21-25, 25-18. Vernoy again led the Saints in kills with 16.

Like the Yellowjackets, Saint Martin’s features a young roster with four seniors, two juniors, one sophomore, and seven freshmen. Vernoy is the Saints’ biggest offensive threat and leads SMU with 211 kills (3.10 per set) and a respectable .226 hitting percentage. Vernoy posted a season high 25 kills on September 1 in a losing effort against California State, Dominguez Hills and hit .550 with just three errors. Alyssa Bartlett had been setting for Vernoy in every match this fall and has 552 total assists (6th GNAC).

Saint Martin’s ranks last in the GNAC in kills per set (11.06) and second to last in blocks per set (1.54). Where they have succeeded has been at the service line. Saint Martin’s ranks first in service aces per set (1.68) and has 114 aces in 68 sets this year. Bartlett leads the team with 21 aces and Iliani Kamaka is not far behind with 19.

Courtney Misner leads the Saints in digs by a large margin over her teammates. With 326 digs in 68 sets, Misner is fifth in the GNAC at 4.79 digs per set. Other main contributors to the back row include Rachel Gondrezick (184), Bartlett (142), and Kamaka (128).

Jon Killingbeck is in his third year at the helm of the SMU volleyball team. He helped the Saints win a school record nine matches in 2016, a five win improvement from the previous year.

All-Time Against Saint Martin’s: The Yellowjackets hold a 20-5 advantage over the Saints in the all-time record book. MSUB has won its’ last four matchups between the two sides and is 9-1 over its’ last ten contests. Montana State Billings won its’ first ever match against Saint Martin’s in 1998 by a 3-1 score.

Last Time: The teams played a competitive five-set match in Billings on September 22 and MSUB prevailed in the decider 15-13. Saint Martin’s took sets one and three, forcing the ‘Jackets to come from behind twice to grab the victory. Skylar Reed broke out for 15 kills to lead the Yellowjackets and Taylor Sherman had 18 digs. Kamaka led all players with 16 kills for SMU and Misner added 22 digs to keep the Saint’s in the match late.

Scouting Seattle Pacific University
Game Day: Saturday, Saturday, October 20 – 2 p.m.
2018 Record: 9-10, 7-5 GNAC, 5-3 home, 4-3 away, 0-4 neutral
2017 Record: 15-13, 10-10 GNAC, 4-6 home, 7-5 away, 4-2 neutral
Head Coach: Abbie Wright (2nd season)

Seattle Pacific got off to a slow start in 2018 in non-conference matches but they have been steadily picking up wins in the GNAC ever since. Last week, the Falcons were in impressive form and knocked off Concordia (Ore.) 3-1 on Thursday, followed by Western Oregon 3-1 on Saturday to snap a four-match losing skid on the road.

The Falcons have a veteran lineup composed of four seniors, six juniors, two sophomores, and one freshman. Junior outside hitter Gabby Oddo was named all-GNAC first team in 2017 and had 396 kills as a sophomore. This fall, Oddo is on a similar pace with 237 kills in 72 sets played and is fifth best in the conference in kills per set at 3.29.

Oddo also leads the team with 27 service aces and is competent defensively as well. Oddo’s 218 digs is second highest on her team and she has 30 block assists for the Falcons.

Symone Tran handles setter duties for SPU and ranks fourth in the GNAC with 9.83 assists per set with 708 total assists.

Seattle Pacific does not stand out in any one category but has been good in several areas. SPU ranks eighth in the GNAC in hitting percentage (.165), fifth in kills (867), fourth in blocks (286), and seventh in digs (1189).

Second year head coach Abbie Wright helped SPU finish with a winning record last season for the first time since 2013. Among Seattle Pacific’s biggest wins this fall have been over Simon Fraser (3-1), Concordia (3-1, 3-0), and Western Oregon (3-0, 3-0).

All-time Against Seattle Pacific: The Falcons defeated MSUB in each of their first 14 matches played against one another. Since then, the ‘Jackets have been much improved but are still just 11-31 all-time against the Falcons. SPU is on a three match win streak in the matchup and MSUB last won on November 5, 2016 in Seattle.

Last Time: It has been less than a month since the Falcons defeated MSUB in Seattle in five sets 25-20, 15-25, 25-20, 23-25, 15-3. Although Montana State Billings has been good in five setters this season (6-3), SPU was all over the ‘Jackets at Brougham Pavilion on September 20. The Yellowjackets may want to avoid going the distance against the Falcons on Saturday.

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 HORN: No. 4 Western Washington continued to dominate the GNAC over the weekend, posting their 17th straight win. The Vikings are 12-0 in the conference, ahead of second place Alaska Anchorage (12-3) by a full three matches and received one first place vote this week in the AVCA Division II National Coaches Poll.

Central Washington is third at 8-4 having lost three straight and Simon Fraser, Alaska, and Seattle Pacific are tied for fourth with identical 7-5 records. Aide from Western Washington, Alaska has been the hottest team in the GNAC lately, with six straight victories.

Kayleigh Harper (Western Washington) leads the GNAC with a .395 hitting percentage. Abby Phelps (Western Washington) has the most kills (285), and Kyla Morgan (Central Washington) leads the conference in digs (404).

LOOKING FORWARD: After matches on Thursday and Saturday of this week, the Yellowjackets jump back into action on Tuesday October 13 against rival Rocky Mountain College. Fans are encouraged to wear pink for Breast Cancer awareness and research and cheer for the Yellowjackets against their long-time crosstown nemesis, the Battlin’ Bears.