Jackets Sweep into Title Tilt (11/11/05)
AUSTIN, TX – There’s an old sports cliché
that says it’s tough to beat the same team three times in a row.
The Montana State-Billings volleyball team validated that Friday
night when they swept Incarnate Word in the semifinals of the
Heartland Conference Championship Tournament and advanced to
Saturday’s championship match.
It was only a week ago that the Cardinals
(17-17) made their first trip to Montana and left with a pair of
conference wins against the Yellowjackets. Fate paired up those
same teams Friday evening in the conference tourney’s second
match. The Yellowjackets (20-7) erased any doubt their two
season-ending losses may have created, winning 30-22, 30-27,
“We played defense really well tonight,” said
Yellowjacket head coach Pa’ulasi Matavao following the match. “It
was probably the best defensive game all year for us. The girls
did nice job of putting together some things we worked on to win
this match. Ali Watson and Jessica Bratton did a good job on the
outside controlling the game, and Alicia Cazemier did her usual
thing. Taylor Faught and Jessica Lechner also had really nice
games even though it might not show up in the stats. Overall the
kids played really well to get into the championship match.”
The Jackets’ win sets up an all-newcomers
championship match on Saturday evening. Top-seeded Western New
Mexico defeated St. Mary’s, 3-0, in Friday’s early pairing to
advance to meet the Yellowjackets in the title match. The
Yellowjackets and Mustangs are both in their first seasons as
members of the Heartland Conference. Western New Mexico is
currently ranked fourth in the region. The Yellowjackets and
Mustangs will square off for the league title and its accompanying
invitation to the NCAA Tournament at 7:00 p.m. Saturday.
The Cardinals led early in all three games
Friday, but MSU Billings was able to rally each time and only
trailed once after the midpoint of any game. The Yellowjackets
out-hit the Cards .178 to .147 overall and had 13 more kills and
13 more aces. Just as they did last weekend, the Cardinals
out-blocked the Yellowjackets—this time 16-5—but MSU Billings
countered the Cards’ blocking with a changeup on defense.
“We did some things differently tonight than
we did last weekend,” said Matavao. “On Monday after we played
them we saw some things that we thought could help us. We went to
a different defense and the kids did a great job executing it.
They really picked it up well. I didn’t think they’d be able to
execute it as well as they did, but they did a great job.
Taylor’s service reception was outstanding. The girls were really
pumped up for this one.”
Watson (Jr., Calgary, Alberta) had a huge match with 21 kills and only
three errors for a blistering .439 attack percentage. The 21
kills were the most by a Yellowjacket in any three-game match this
season. She also picked up a team-high 19 digs on the defensive
side of the net and added four service aces. Watson eclipsed the
400-kills mark for the season on Friday, moving her season total
to 402. She became just the fourth player in school history to
record over 400 kills in a single season.
“They couldn’t stop her,” said Matavao of
Watson. “She was pounding it down. Incarnate Word’s whole key
tonight was to stop Alicia. They didn’t expect Ali and Jessica to
have big nights. They ganged up on Alicia. They did a nice job
of blocking her, but then Ali went to work, and Jessica came
through at crucial times when we really needed a kill. Every time
they would make a run at us, we went to Jessica and she came
Bratton (Jr., Casper, WY) finished with a dozen kills on 38 attempts. She
was also in on four blocks. Her 12 kills put her over the 300
mark for the season at 305. At 961 career kills, Bratton moved up
to third all-time in school history.
Lechner (Fr., Pompeys Pillar, MT) added five kills on an efficient .500
attack percentage. Faught (Fr., Billings, MT) and Nicole
Kruse (So., Huntley, MT) each had 11 digs. Faught also
drilled four service aces. Kruse broke the single season school
record for aces last week against the Cardinals with her 61st. Alexis
Sandru (Jr., Twin Bridges, MT) also played a big role on
defense Friday, adding 18 digs and a block.
Bills (Jr., Provo, UT) handed out 47 assists, matching her
three-game high for the season. She also had eight digs and a
match-high five service aces, one short of her career high.
Despite the effort to shut down the middle of the net, Cazemier (So., Vauxhall, Alberta) still had 11 kills. She was
also in on five blocks, giving her a career-best 121 for the
Kari Chapman was the only Cardinal in double
figures for kills with 12. She was also in on a dozen blocks, four
of them solo. Kim Kvapil and Brandie Garcia each added nine
kills, and Hannah Werchan had 22 digs.
“I told the girls they have nothing to lose
now,” said Matavao. “This is where we wanted to be (when the
season started). Western won in three tonight, too, but I think
our girls are ready.”
If the Yellowjackets can pull of the upset on
Saturday they will win their first-ever conference title and earn
their first-ever berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Jackets and
Mustangs split a pair of matches in Billings in September.
Western is 25-4 overall and 18-1 against regional opponents. The
lone loss was a five-game defeat at the hands of the