By Bruce Sayler
It might be hard to convince Great Falls High’s volleyball team that Butte High’s could play any better than it did Tuesday night.
Some Bulldog players said it’s true though after their first win of the season, a 25-22, 25-20, 25-14 Eastern AA Conference sweep over the Bison in Butte High’s Ross J. Richardsonn Memorial Gym.
It was the Bulldogs’ first volleyball sweep since Sept. 25, 2015 when, almost two years to the date in the same place and against the same opponent, the Bulldogs last accomplished such a feat — 25-17, 25-21, 25-23.
“We didn’t play like this against (the Bison) last weekend,” Butte High head coach Katrina Berg said. “They beat us (in the Great Falls Invitational) 25-20 and 25-9. But, we played like this against Helena Capital even though we lost.”
The Bulldogs can play better. Hitter Jenna Maroney and setter Sydney Christie said they already have this season.
“Against Capital and (Missoula) Sentinel and we almost beat Billings Senior,” Maroney said, enthused, as she and her teammate walked from the building. “We have played better than this. But, this was good.”
In enough ways, it was outstanding. Butte High’s service errors were cut to a miniscule three after having been a bugaboo of sorts. The front line play of 6-foot-1 sophomores Kira Mortensen and Emma Field, and of returnees Allisa Bernhardt and Cameron Cassidy was intimidating. The block figured largely in the win, then the added hitting of Brittney Tierney and Baylee Leary brought more offense. Setters Bethanney Foley and Christie worked the attack while libero Keeley Pochervina and Maroney led a floor defense that scooped up some sensational digs turned into Bulldog points.
“The girls were excited about playing at home tonight,” Berg said, alluding to the match opening the home part of Butte High’s schedule after five matches, not counting tournaments, on the road. “We needed that win and the confidence (that comes with it). I don’t think (the Bison) expected this from us. Once we’d get three, four or five points ahead, they seemed to get frustrated.
“We played like this against Capital last week and didn’t win. I was hoping we’d come out and play like that tonight. We did and I think we took Great Falls by surprise.”
Field’s’ kill to end set one finished off one of Butte High’s best volleyball games over the last couple of seasons. The Bulldogs led most of the set and reached set point at 24-21 on a kill by Cassidy. After Great Falls scored an Anna Johnson tip, then Field nailed the kill to bring on game two. Field’s first kill of the match had given Butte High a 7-6 edge and the Bulldogs held onto the lead on the way to winning the opening set.
Butte High had to surge to take away the second-set victory. Pochervina grabbed control with a four-point serving run, that featured a pair of Cassidy tips. Butte High had just taken the lead on a service error by the Bison. Foley fueled an earlier run with two aces in a four-point spree that overtook Great Falls until the Bison scrapped back. Set point arrived at 24-19 on a shot by the Bison that landed wide of the court. Tierney then nailed a Christie set for the set win.
“We event with a brand new lineup tonight and I was a little worried,” Berg said. “I was worried about how it would work, but they were awesome. Berg said was one of the changes was promoting Field to fulltime varsity from the junior varsity. The coach said it looked to prove to be a good fit for the rotation.
Butte High spotted Great Falls High a 4-0 advantage after a pair of Erin Hocker kills on the first run of the third game. The Bulldogs got it all back with Foley serving two aces in a six-point run that was highlighted also by a Mortensen kill and a scramble that Pochervina ended by emerging from the scrum to stream a shot from the back row that caught the Bison off-guard. Later, a Cassidy kill stretched the margin to 16-10. At 18-13, after a Leary kill, Foley went back to the service line and reeled off five more points, throwing another ace into the ix. She also scored o a setter’s dump shot, and Tierney belted two kills. Mortensen posted a block.
A hitting error gave the Bison the ball, but they quickly gave it back up on a serving miscue, which brought match point. A tip placed by Mortensen finished the Butte High victory.
Berg said the Bulldogs have had trouble finishing matches, which was possibly costing them wins.
“”We finished it today,” the coach said, and added that the addition of volunteer coach Laura Mortensen to the staff has been a boost to the program. “All the assistants are a great help. We’re all working hard at trying to build the program and I think it’s starting to come together.
“When the crowd was chanting, there at the end, ‘Warm up the Bus! Warm up the bus!’ I had to ask our girls, ‘How good does that feel?’ I know I liked it.”
Mortensen led Butte High in kills with 11, and Cassidy and Tierney notched five each. Foley fired five aces and set 13 assists. Mortensen had four blocks and Field fenced two. Pochervina registered 17 digs and Maroney came up with 10.
The Bison are 0-1 in conference and 1-6 this season. Libero Hailey Little came up with 16 of the team’s 53 digs. Abbie Groskreutz and Danielle Devlin powered nine kills each. Celia Keil and Krysta Leonard scored two aces apiece.
The Bulldogs, 1-5 for the season and 1-0 in the Eastern AA, will play a non-conference match at Class A Belgrade on Thursday, then will be home Saturday in league action against Billings Skyview.
Butte High def. Great Falls High 25-22, 25-20, 25-14
KILLS — GF 19 (Abbie Groskreutz 9, Danielle Devlin 9), Butte 32 (Kira Mortensen 11, Cameron Cassidy 5, Brittney Tierney 5, Baylee Leary 3, Bethanney Foley 3, Emma Field 3, Alissa Bernhardt 1, Keeley Pochervina 1). ASSISTS — GF 28 (Devlin 14, Celia Keil 12), Butte 25 (Foley 13, Sydney Christie 9, Tierey 3). ACES — GF 4 (Krysta Leonard 2, Keil 2), Butte 7 (Foley 5, Cassidy 1, Christie 1). DIGS — GF 53 (Hailey Little 16), Butte 52 (Pochervina 17, Jenna Maroney 10, Foley 8, Tierney 6, Cassidy 5, Bernhardt 4, Field 1, Christie 1). BLOCKS — GF 4 (Four players with one each), Butte 6 (Mortensen 4, Field 2).