OGDEN, UT — (Editor's Note: Montana State press release)
Montana State sophomore outside hitter Kira Thomsen recorded a career-high 26 kills, seven of which came in a pivotable third set, to rally the Bobcats to a 19-25, 24-26, 25-15, 27-25, 15-11 victory over Northern Arizona in the opening round of the Big Sky Conference Tournament on Thursday night in Swenson Gym.
After dropping the opening two sets behind tournament jitters, miscommunication and passing woes, Montana State (15-13) turned the table in the third frame. Trailing Northern Arizona (12-14) 6-4 early, Thomsen knocked down four consecutive kills, and with an Allie Lynch service ace sandwiched in between, MSU took a 9-6 lead. The Bobcats never relinquished its advantage, cruising to the win on a Hannah Scott kill. MSU outhit the Lumberjacks .357 to .121 en route to the victory.
“We decided to put a line in the sand, cross it, and we never went back over it again,” said MSU head coach Daniel Jones. “We said, ‘we’re not losing this match.’ We have the athletes, and when we get going with that mentality, it’s really hard to stop us.”
Montana State held the momentum in the fourth set, storming out to a comfortable 19-12 lead following a kill by freshman Jordan Radick. Northern Arizona slowly chipped away at the deficit and evened the contest at 22-all. MSU fought off match-point at 24-23 on a Thomsen kill. Two plays later, a Radick kill gave the Bobcats its first set point, but NAU answered knotting the game at 25-all. Thomsen again gave MSU set point at 26-25 and a Lumberjack hitting miscue on the ensuing rally evened the match at 2-2.
“At the end of the fourth when NAU made that massive run to come back into the set, and applied pressure and held match point, we decided to be the aggressor,” Jones said. “Our kids weren’t going to be denied.”
Sophomore middle blocker Emma Pence ignited MSU early in the final set posting three kills and two blocks as the Cats jumped to an 8-0 advantage. Following a Scott kill, Montana State held a 13-4 lead and seemed poised to close out the match. NAU made one final push on six straight points to whittle the margin to three. Scott ended the streak with a kill at 14-10 and two plays later Thomsen put an exclamation point on her best performance as a Bobcat with her 26th kill.
“To hit .357, .220, .414 in the three sets we won, that’s where you want to be,” Jones said. “We did exactly what we wanted to do in terms of siding out at a higher percentage than they did, and all the different things. Momentum played a big role in the match. They held it first and then we took ahold of it.”
Aside from Thomsen, recording double figures were Scott 15, and Radick, with a career-best 14 kills. Pence finished with eight kills and a match-best five blocks. Setters Allie Lynch and Delaney Shearan dished out 34 and 25 assists, respectively. Lynch, a senior from Bozeman, also chipped in a career-high four aces.
Defensively, MSU was led by freshman Courtney Weatherby with 35 digs, just three shy of the all-time Bobcat record. Also posting double digit digs were Scott 14 and Thomsen 11.
MSU finished the contest hitting .293, while limiting the Lumberjacks to .237. MSU held advantages in kills (74-63, aces (7-5), digs (86-67), and blocks (8-5).
Taylor Jacobsen guided NAU with 20 kills and 11 digs.
MSU plays No. 1 seed and tournament host Weber State on Friday night at 7 p.m. in semifinal action.