MISSOULA, Mont. -- Sacramento State received a career-high 22 kills from sophomore Sloan Lovett, but it was not enough in a 3-2 loss (21-25, 25-20, 25-21, 19-25, 15-10) to Montana in a Big Sky Conference volleyball match Saturday evening at the West Auxiliary Gym.
The loss was about as heartbreaking as it gets as Sacramento State (15-16, 10-10) was eliminated from Big Sky Tournament contention and the team's season comes to an end. Entering today, the Hornets needed to beat Montana OR have Northern Colorado lose to Northern Arizona, and Sacramento State would have secured the No. 6 seed in next week's Big Sky Tournament in Portland. Neither of those outcomes went the Hornets' way.
Only six teams in the 11-member league qualify for the Big Sky Tournament, and Northern Colorado will get the No. 6 seed. Both Sacramento State and Northern Colorado have 10-10 records, but the Bears win the tiebreaker by virtue of winning five of the eight sets played this year between the two teams. The Hornets beat the Bears, 3-2 in Sacramento, and Northern Colorado was victorious, 3-0, in Greeley.
Making matters even more grueling for Sacramento State was Northern Colorado won its match by the slimmest of margins in five sets. About 20 minutes after the Hornets' match ended, Northern Colorado erased a 13-12 deficit in the fifth set by winning each of the last three points to beat Northern Arizona, 25-17, 23-25, 27-25, 23-25, 15-13.
Now, instead of traveling to Portland for next week's Big Sky Tournament, the careers of Sacramento State seniors Kayla Beal, Hannah Hettinga, Chelcy Motes and Katie Aprile come to an end. The 10 conference wins matches the program's highest total in six years, but it was not enough to get the Hornets into the postseason event for the first time since 2011.
The Big Sky Tournament field is now set as Portland State, North Dakota, Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Montana and Northern Colorado will be the six seeds, respectively, next Friday-Saturday. The winner of the single-elimination tournament receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Portland State and North Dakota were co-regular season champions with 17-3 league records, but the Vikings will be the No. 1 seed.
Tonight's victory for Montana (14-14, 11-8) clinched the No. 5 seed for the Grizzlies, who swept the season series over Sacramento State.
The Hornets never had a lead during the fifth set of tonight's match as Montana used a 5-0 run to take a commanding 9-4 lead. Sacramento State cut the deficit to 10-8, but would get no closer the remainder of the frame. Montana hit .389 in the set while receiving four kills from Brooke Bray and tallying blocks on three straight points during the 5-0 run.
Sacramento State finished the match with 14 more kills than Montana (68-54) and hit for nearly an identical percentage (SAC .250; UM .252), but the Griz had 15.0 team blocks and took advantage of 12 Hornet service errors. That matched Sacramento State's third most service errors of the season.
The Hornets got big performances from Lovett (career-high 22 kills), freshman Morgan Stanley (17 kills, career-high tying 14 digs, .350 hitting percentage), Motes (career-high 11 kills, .444 hitting percentage and four blocks) and Hettinga (career-high six kills, 1.000 hitting percentage and season-best 58 assists).
Lovett's 22 kills eclipsed her previous career high of 21, Motes' 11 kills surpassed her previous career high of eight, and Hettinga's six kills were two better than she's ever posted. In addition, her 58 assists were one shy of her career best. Libero Katie Aprile finished with 21 digs, one shy of her career high.
Sacramento State finished with 10.0 team blocks, and seven different Hornets finished with at least two blocks, including a career-high tying four from Hettinga. Beal had 11 digs, but finished with just six kills, matching her lowest total of the season.
For Montana, Bray finished with 19 kills and a .485 hitting percentage, Natalie Jones had seven kills, six blocks and a .545 hitting percentage, and Kelsey Schile finished with a match-best 10 blocks. Kayla Reno added 14 kills, four aces and 10 digs.
Though the Hornets lose three starters (Beal, Hettinga, Motes) and their libero (Aprile), Sacramento State will return starters Stanley and Lovett at outside hitter, as well as Courtney Dietrich at middle blocker. Middle Kendall LaVine and defensive specialist Lexie Skalbeck, who also garnered starts this year, will be back in 2014 as well.