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MSU Billings chases road sweep Thursday, Saturday

Posted at 4:05 PM, Nov 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-01 18:05:48-04

(MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – There is no time to lose for the Montana State University Billings volleyball team if they want to capitalize on a chance to finish .500 overall or better in 2018. The Yellowjackets (11-15, 5-11 GNAC) have already surpassed last year’s win mark by two with four regular season Great Northwest Athletic Conference matches to play.

The first two will be away from home as the team travels to Central Washington Thursday November 1, then Northwest Nazarene University Saturday November 3. Both contests are slated to begin at 7 p.m. on the west coast.

“We had a tough week last week,” commented head coach Casey Williams. “We played some tough competition and battled but fell short. We are looking to rebound this week with NNU and CWU.”

The team will likely come up short of qualifying for the NCAA West Region tournament this season, but they can take solace in the fact they have secured marquee wins over Seattle Pacific and Central Washington this fall and have a chance to beat Central Washington again this week on the road.

“I think that we match up really well with both teams,” said Williams. “They play very similar to us and both should be great matches. We had a goal at the beginning of the year to finish at .500 or above and we have the opportunity to achieve that goal.”

The Yellowjackets have been an energetic and fun young squad to watch. Maddi Vigil leads the team in kills with 253 (18th GNAC) and the sophomore recorded her 11th double-double of the season against rival Rocky Mountain College on October 23. Vigil made 14 kills and 24 digs in the effort.

Sophomore setter Alexa Smythe has vaulted up to No. 1 in the GNAC for service aces per set with 22, including five in the last three matches. Fellow sophomore Izela Alvarez leads the team in total aces with 33 and the Yellowjackets have been intermittently inside the top 25 teams for service aces among NCAA Division II teams this fall.

Similar to 2017, matches away from home have not been friendly to MSU Billings. The Yellowjackets are 4-5 at home, 6-2 at neutral locations, and 1-8 away. The team scored their lone road win on September 20 when they defeated Saint Martin’s University 3-2 in Lacey, Washington.

MSUB is coming off a 2-3 homestand and has lost each of its’ last three matchups. Most recently, the Yellowjackets fell to Simon Fraser University 3-0 on Saturday October 27. The Clan got off to a great start in the match, outhitting the ‘Jackets .385 to .167 in the first set. MSU Billings cut a sizeable deficit to tie the third set 24-24 but were out maneuvered by a pair of big hitters for SFU and fell 26-24.

Alvarez set a new single season record with 622 digs last season. This year, Alvarez is slightly behind her 2017 pace at 475 total digs but has picked up the pace recently. The sophomore has 76 digs in the last four matches and is just 102 digs off Erin Compton’s mark for second place on the MSUB single season chart. Alvarez needs to keep a 25.5 dig per match ratio to pass Compton. The sophomore is already the only player to make the top-10 list in digs in two separate seasons.

The five players who have appeared in all 104 sets this season include Alvarez, Vigil, Taylor Sherman, Eavan Taylor, and Miranda McConnell. Bayli Monck has played in 102 while Smythe and Kylee Clarke have split near equal time at the setter position.

Aside from Alvarez and Vigil, senior Taylor Sherman has recorded 220 digs, which is third best on the squad. Clarke, Smythe, and Monck are also over the century mark for digs with 133, 132, and 182 respectively.

Miranda McConnell has led the ‘Jackets in hitting percentage all season. Last Tuesday, McConnell made 14 kills, one error, and hit .419, her second best percentage of the season. At .258 overall, McConnell is .033 points shy of making the top-ten for hitting percentage in a single season.

Scouting Central Washington University
Game Day: Thursday, November 1 – 7 p.m. LT
2018 Record: 18-5, 12-4 GNAC, 7-2 home, 8-3 away, 3-0 neutral
2017 Record: 19-10, 14-6 GNAC, 11-3 home, 6-5 away, 2-2 neutral
Head Coach: Mario Andaya (22nd season)

Montana State Billings outlasted the Wildcats on October 6 in five sets (25-12, 25-23, 25-21, 25-17, 15-13) even after losing the first set by a sizeable margin. Vigil had 18 kills and Alvarez made 28 digs in the effort.

The Yellowjackets will likely need to find ways to neutralize Wildcat senior outside hitter Shelby Mauritson if they hope to grab a second upset against CWU. Mauritson is No. 2 in the GNAC for kills per set at 3.81 and 18th in hitting percentage (.212). Mauritson slammed 19 kills and had 13 digs against the ‘Jackets in their first meeting.

Another player to watch out for is sophomore Kyla Morgan. Despite Morgan’s small stature at 5-foot-4, she has 588 total digs this season for the Wildcats, which ranks No. 1 in the GNAC and 16th in NCAA Division II.

Central Washington will play Northwest Nazarene on Tuesday night before taking on the Yellowjackets on Thursday night. The Wildcats will be trying to extend their current four-match win streak. CWU has lost just one set since October 18 and has victories over Concordia (3-0), Western Oregon (3-0), Seattle Pacific (3-0), and Saint Martin’s (3-0) over the stretch.

The Wildcats have three seniors, five juniors, four sophomores, and nine freshmen on the roster. Mario Andaya is in his 22nd season as head coach and helped bring CWU to the NCAA Division II post-season for the last five consecutive years. Last season, Central Washington lost to Northwest Nazarene in the NCAA Division II West Regional first round.

Central Washington ranks second in the GNAC in hitting percentage (.243), first in assists (13.70), first in kills (14.58), second in blocks (2.64), and ninth in service aces (1.17). The Wildcats also lead the league in digs with 19.68 digs per set for a total of 1594.

CWU received votes in the latest AVCA Division II national coaches’ poll but remained just outside the top 25 teams. The Wildcats are tied for second place in the GNAC standings with Alaska Anchorage. They hold a three game lead over third place Alaska.

MSUB is 5-21 all-time against the Wildcats and the ‘Jackets have won one time over the last ten meetings with CWU.

Scouting Northwest Nazarene University
Game Day: Saturday, November 3 – 7 p.m.
2018 Record: 6-17, 6-10 GNAC, 3-7 home, 3-6 away, 0-4 neutral
2017 Record: 25-5, 16-4 GNAC, 14-0 home, 7-4 away, 4-1 neutral
Head Coach: Doug English (sixth season)

Northwest Nazarene features a balanced lineup consisting of three seniors, four juniors, four sophomores, and seven freshmen. On Saturday, the Nighthawks shutout Seattle Pacific 3-0 (25-18, 25-21, 25-20). Shayli Siegfried had 20 digs for NNU. Kayla Sale had 12 and Cami Heninger had 15 to go with eight kills.

The Nighthawks are 5-5 in their last ten matches. Abby Blum leads Northwest Nazarene with 246 kills (3.00 kills per set). Megan Nelson is NNU’s top setter at 509 assists.

As a team, the Nighthawks are sixth in hitting percentage (.164), eighth in assists (11.17), eighth in kills (11.69), tenth in blocks (1.54), 11th in service aces (1.08), and fourth in digs (18.12).

Northwest Nazarene is one spot ahead of the Yellowjackets in the GNAC in eighth place. MSU Billings is 6-22 all-time against the Nighthawks and defeated the NNU for the first time since 2011 on October 4 in Billings. The Yellowjackets took the match 3-2 (25-22, 20-25, 17-25, 25-16, 15-11). Skylar Reed had 18 kills for the ‘Jackets and Alvarez recorded 27 digs. Siegfried made 21 digs for NNU.

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Western Washington has won 21 straight matches and is within striking distance of a second GNAC title in as many years. The Vikings remained No. 2 among Division II teams nationally this week in the ACVA coaches’ poll. In the west regional rankings, Western Washington earned the No. 1 ranking. Central Washington is in at No. 5 and Alaska Anchorage is ranked No. 6.