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MSU Billings upsets Alaska Fairbanks in 5-set thriller

1st win over Nanooks since 2017
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Posted at 8:47 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 11:08:04-04

(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)

BILLINGS – For the first time since 2017, the Montana State University Billings volleyball team knocked off the Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks with a five-set thriller bolstered by 19 kills from Bayli Monck, Joelle Mahowald’s big fifth set and a huge comeback after trailing two sets to none.

“I love the fight of this team,” MSUB head coach Casey Williams said. “We are so resilient and put in a ton of effort tonight to get a really big win. This is huge for the confidence of our team.”

The Yellowjackets (8-11, 4-6 GNAC) held the Nanooks (13-9, 6-4 GNAC) to their third-lowest hitting percentage on the year (.108), thanks to MSUB’s 12 total blocks. Mahowald had three solo blocks alone – including several down the stretch as MSUB pulled away in the final set. Additionally, MSUB was bolstered by nine kills from Skylar Reed, a career-best six kills from second-year freshman Zoe Bibb and a productive night from Kennedy Juranek, who led the team with two service-aces, which tied her career high.

“We had our seniors really lead us tonight in a big way,” Williams said. “But we also had some big-time performances from Zoe Bibb and Kennedy Juranek. I was really proud of the overall team effort.”

QUICK HITS

  • Bayli Monck’s 19-kill, 11-dig double-double was her ninth of the year.
  • Hannah Hashbarger added a double-double of her own with 45 assists and 11 digs to go along with a career-high four kills.
  • Thursday’s game marked Casey Williams’ 50th win at MSUB.
  • MSUB snapped a six-game losing streak to the Nanooks with the win.

MATCH STATS

  • MSUB hitting: .205 overall (.194 set one, .050 set two, .229 set three, .343 set four, .267 set five)
  • Alaska hitting: .108 overall (.385 set one, .022 set two, .023 set three, .059 set four, .042 set five)
  • Service aces: MSUB 2, UAF 3
  • Digs: MSUB 76, UAF 71
  • Blocks: MSUB 12.0, UAF 6.0
  • Alaska was led by Lahra Weber’s 14 kills and 12 digs.

Everything went Alaska’s way in the first set, yet MSUB rebounded from a slow start and chipped away at a double-digit deficit to six in a 25-17 first set defeat. Some highlights from the first set included a pair of kills from Zoe Bibb – who tied her career-high in kills in the first set alone – the first of Kennedy Juranek’s two service aces and four kills from Bayli Monck to lead all Yellowjackets in the first.

MSUB tried flipping the script in the second and took an early 5-3 lead, which kickstarted an early back-and-forth between the two teams. Trailing 6-5, Zoe Bibb set a new career-high with her third kill to tie the game at six, then Hannah Hashbarger’s second kill of the night and a bad swing from Alaska tied the game at eight. Two points later, Joelle Mahowald rocketed a shot off Alaska’s libero that went out of bounds and into the rafters. Alaska went on a 4-0 mini-run that was stopped by a bad serve and then solid defense from Hashbarger at the net. MSUB responded with a 4-0 run of its own – capped off by Bibb’s fourth kill – to take a 17-15 lead in the late stages of the set.

Although Alaska went on a 6-0 run to take a 21-17 lead, Monck and Hashbarger – the latter of whom faked out the defense with her kill – pulled MSUB within two points. Alaska’s 3-0 run to bring set point only set up the first of MSUB’s many comebacks of the night. Even though MSUB fell short in the second, its play late in the second set gave the team a glimpse of what it could do during the night.

Trailing 20-24, Juranek sprinted down an Alaska ball, Hashbarger made a recovery after the ball nearly touched the roof, then UAF couldn’t get a handle on Monck’s ensuing swing. MSUB won the next point, then Reed brought the ‘Jackets within one at the next point, but Alaska took the second set 25-23.

Inspired by its comeback attempt late in the second set, MSUB took that momentum and seized its opportunity in the third set. A bad serve from Alaska kicked off a 4-0 run capitalized by a tip from Reed that skied up and over Alaska’s block, then a kill from Hashbarger gave MSUB a 9-7 lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Clinging to a 12-11 lead, Bibb’s swing and then two blocks from Mahowald and Monck quickly gave way to a 17-11 MSUB advantage.

Leading 19-13, Williams used her challenge at a pivotal time after a Juranek serve was ruled out. The call was overturned, Juranek got the ace and MSUB used that turn of events to keep pushing towards the finish line. MSUB used a big block from Hayden and Skylar to force set point, then Hayden hammered it home on the next point to give MSUB a 25-16 win in the third set.

From there, MSUB was firing on all cylinders; no deficit seemed too big to overcome. Alaska took a brief 4-1 lead, yet MSUB rallied and took the lead with Juranek back to serve. Tied at six-all, Reed’s persistence paid off, as she skied in on the left side, swung and split Alaska’s defense for the kill.

Both Reed and Monck read Alaska’s defense well in the fourth: The veterans knew when to drop the hammer or to tip the ball between Alaska’s lines, sent Nanook defenders diving and helped MSUB hit a match-best .343 in the set. Monck alone tallied seven of her 19 kills in the fourth – including two-consecutive points that kicked off a 7-1 run late in the set.

Although an Alaska timeout seemed to regroup the Nanooks as they trailed 17-11, a kill from Monck, plus one from Mahowald and a block made things 20-11, ‘Jackets. Back-to-back kills from Mahowald – including an effortless block at the front of the net – helped MSUB double-up Alaska 24-12, then Mahowald would seal the deal with another kill to force a fifth set.

Set five required one more comeback from the ‘Jackets. After a kill from Monck’s got MSUB on the board, Alaska took a 4-1 lead. Alaska then served into the net, Mahowald earned another kill, then both teams see-sawed until another kill from Mahowald kicked off a backbreaking, 5-0 run from the Yellowjackets.

Reed gave MSUB a 7-6 lead with a kill, then Mahowald made Alaska pay with back-to-back blocks to make the score 10-6. Alaska won the ensuing point, yet Mahowald smothered the Nanooks’ next attempt. Two straight Alaska miscues put MSUB up 14-8, then a block from Hayden and Monck brought MSUB at the doorstep of the upset. Fittingly, Monck’s 19th kill of the night finished off the Nanooks.

MSUB welcomes No. 24 Alaska Anchorage to town on Saturday at 1 p.m.