BOZEMAN, Mont. -- True freshman Morgan Stanley (18) and sophomore Sloan Lovett (16) combined for 34 kills to lead Sacramento State to a 3-1 victory (28-26, 22-25, 25-14, 25-23) over Montana State in a Big Sky Conference volleyball matchup Thursday evening at Shroyer Gym.
In the biggest match of the season, the Hornets came through in a major way, improving to 15-15 overall and 10-9 in the conference. More importantly, Sacramento State moved one step closer to securing a spot in the Big Sky Tournament, which will be played next week in Portland.
With one match remaining in the regular season, the Hornets still sit in the sixth spot in the conference standings, one game ahead of Northern Colorado (9-10) which also won tonight. With a victory on Saturday at Montana, the Hornets would clinch at least the No. 6 seed for the tournament as the top six teams in the 11-member conference qualify for the postseason event.
However, Northern Colorado does own the tiebreaker should it finish tied for sixth with the Hornets. The only way that happens is if Northern Colorado wins at home against Northern Arizona on Saturday, and the Hornets lose to Montana. Every other scenario allows Sacramento State to qualify for the Big Sky Tournament for the 15th time since joining the league in 1996.
Both Lovett and Stanley, the underclassmen duo at outside hitter for the Hornets, came up huge all evening. In the first set, it was Lovett who had three late kills to clinch a tight 28-26 win. In fact, a Lovett kill saved set points at 24-25 and 25-26, and she added another kill to give the Hornets a 27-26 lead. The set finally came to an end in Sacramento State's favor after senior Kayla Beal and freshman Kendall LaVine combined on a block of MSU outside hitter Loni Kreun.
In the fourth set, it was Stanley's turn to come through in the clutch. After a Hornet service error allowed Montana State to tie the score at 23-23, Stanley had kills on back-to-back points to put the set and match away. At 24-23, Stanley was blocked on a swing, but the Hornets kept the ball alive and setter Hannah Hettinga went right back to Stanley who punished a 1-on-1 opportunity at the net to deliver the important win.
Sacramento State hit .247, the best mark the team has posted in a Big Sky road match this season. The two teams were fairly even in nearly every statistical category, but Sacramento State did take advantage of 12 MSU service errors, and the Hornets found a way to come up big in the clutch situations.
"We fought off three set points in the first set, and I was really happy the way we responded after they had all the momentum," Sacramento State head coach Ruben Volta said. "Overall, it was good effort, and we attacked well, especially on the outside with Morgan and Sloan. We served well, played good defense and did a nice job of siding out on service receive.
"Obviously Saturday is going to be a huge match and we will need to play good defense and block a little better than we did tonight. If we can serve tough and make their offense a little more predictable, that's really going to help our cause."
Stanley's 18 kills accompanied a .212 hitting percentage and nine digs. She was nearly unstoppable in the fourth set with seven kills and a .429 hitting percentage. Lovett, who has battled an assortment of injuries the past few weeks, bounced back in impressive fashion with 16 kills and a .351 hitting percentage. She committed just three errors in 37 attacks, and had at least five kills in three of the four sets.
Joining Stanley and Lovett in double-figure kills was Beal, who finished with 11 kills, 12 digs and three aces. The double-double for the rightside hitter was her eighth of the season. Middle blocker Chelcy Motes had eight kills, three blocks and a .375 hitting percentage, and Hettinga added three kills, a .750 hitting percentage, 49 assists, 11 digs and career-high tying four blocks.
Defensively, freshman Lexie Skalbeck had a team-best 17 digs at center back, her second highest total of the season. Libero Katie Aprile added 14 digs to round out the four Hornets with double digits in digs. Despite battling flu-like symptoms, freshman middle blocker Courtney Dietrich gutted out three blocks, a pair of kills and a .286 hitting percentage.
For Montana State (6-24, 4-15), Kennadie Clute had a match-best 22 kills, but hit just .169 in 65 attacks. Kreun added 13 kills and Natalee Godfrey had 11 kills.
Saturday's match in Missoula is a 6 p.m. PST start. The Hornets will look to avenge a loss to the Grizzlies earlier this year in Sacramento, and celebrate a tournament berth. Montana has already clinched a spot in the Big Sky Tournament.