By Bruce Sayler
Both teams most likely felt from the get-go that this Livingston-Butte Central volleyball match was going to be a fierce competition.
They got what they expected and the spectators were served a hit-for-dig five-set thriller in the Maroon Activities Center. The non-conference Class A high school volleyball match wound up a Livingston win — 27-29, 25-22, 18-25, 25-14, 15-13.
“It’s hard to lose in the fifth game, when you’ve had that lead,” Butte Central head coach Becky Hancock said. “I was hoping we could pull this one out. As young as we are, we could use some confidence.”
The Maroons started three freshmen to go with two sophomores and two seniors in the starting alignment, including the spot shared by the libero. They stood up and stood in well against a senior-laden Livingston lineup that sent five seniors to the court though most of its rotation.
The tone of the match carried all the way to the two-point-decided fifth game. The BC girls ran out to a 5-1 edge behind a strong serving run by Emma Keeley and kills by Zoe Sullivan and Cassidy Strizic. The Rangers made up the difference with Aleah Peterson on serve. Butte Central muffed two returns to make for a one-point match and Livingston pulled even at 11-all on a Peterson ace. A Maroon’s hit traveled past the end line and Livingston had its first lead of the set.
A chain of errors created a 13-all tie before the Rangers went ahead to match point on a kill by Jordyn Toney. Then BC’s next return tangled in the net and ended the match.
“I have two freshmen (Allyson Mueller and Amira Bolton) playing in the middle and kudos to them for how they played today,” Hancock said. “That’s a hard position to throw freshmen into with a lot of space to cover, but they’re working hard.
“We came out and competed. We just need some varsity experience. The girls are learning and they’re working hard.”
Hancock, though still not happy about the loss, noted that the match was the first varsity home competition for most of her players and that the freshmen thrown into the fire, hadn’t competed above junior high level until this schedule.
“Our fiver seniors (Olivia Bolton, Kassidy Criscuolo, Chelsey McGree, Zoe Sullivan and Megan Michelotti) are doing their part,” Hancock said, “but, more than half of the team is made up of freshmen and sophomores.”
The first game set the tempo. Burton’s ace serve finished off a 15-13 Butte Central win in a set the Maroons trailed most of the way. The 25-24 edge they gained on a Ranger error with Olivia Bolton serving was BC’s first lead since 3-2 very early in the game. A Brooklyn Fitzgerald kill put Livingston at set point, 24-23. Amira Bolton and Cassidy Strizic combined on a block to re-tie the score. The teams traded sideouts until a Criscuolo kill gave Butte Central a 28-27 edge, gaining position for Burton’s ace.
No more than three points ever separated the opponents through the third game. Livingston grabbed the lead for good at 19-18 on a kill by Sophie Taylor. The Rangers maintained control of it and reached set point at 24-22 on a Peterson kill. Fitzgerald killed the set-winner.
Strizic and Keeley rattled off seven points worth of serving runs as the Maroons rebounded to control the third game. Their lead was 15-10 after a successful Criscuolo tip while Keeley was at the line. Strizic closed out the set with another run, taking over serve with a 21-17 advantage after an Amira Bolton kill. A kill by each of the Bolton sisters and a Strizic ace carried the team to set point, 24-18, and then Strizic burned in another ace to end game three.
The fourth game was the only one that wasn’t close. Livingston found its rhythm, seized the momentum and pounded out to a 15-4 lead, many of the points coming on BC miscues. Set point arrived at 24-14 on a Peterson kill, before Taylor used a dump shot to square the match count at two games apiece.
“The upside is I feel we’re going to get there,” Hancock said. “As long as we’re progressing and our game is improving, I’ll take that. We’ll fix the little mistakes we’re making and if we can stick in there mentally, we will be fine.”
The coach lauded the players’ willingness to learn, work and compete, and their overall athleticism.
Criscuolo had 10 kills to lead Butte Central on offense while Strizic was next with six. Keeley set 12 assists. Strizic fired five aces and Criscuolo had four. Olivia Bolton and Criscuolo came up with 14 digs each, Zoe Sullivan had 12 and Burton 10. Mueller led in blocks with two.
Livingston leaders were Peterson with 17 kills, 13 digs and six aces, Fitzgerald with five blocks, Skye Ingram with 24 assists and Deni Hampton with 21, and Hope Roy with 13 digs.
The Maroons will be home again on Thursday, opening Southwestern A Conference play against Frenchtown. Then they’ll play Hamilton next Saturday in the MAC.
Livingston def. Butte Central 27-29, 25-22, 18-25, 25-14, 15-13.
KILLS — Liv 44 (Aleah Peterson 17, Brooklyn Fitzgerald 11), BC 23 (Kassidy Criscuolo 10, Cassidy Strizic 6, Amira Bolton 3, Allyson Mueller 2, Olivia Bolton 1, Chelsey McGree 1). ASSISTS — Liv 44 (Skye Ingram 23, Denie Hampson 21), BC 21 (Emma Keeley 12, O. Bolton 9). ACES — Liv 11 (Peterson 6, Hope Roy 2), BC 12 (Strizic 5, Criscuolo 4, Keeley 2, Sophia Burton 1). DIGS — Liv 40 (Peterson 13, Roy 13), BC 70 (O. Bolton 14, Criscuolo 14, Zoe Sullivan 12, Burton 10, Sophie Sullivan 6, Keeley 6, Strizic 4, A. Bolton 2, McGree 2). BLOCKS — Liv 9 (Fitzgerald 4, Ryleah Floyd 2), BC 4 (Mueller 2, O. Bolton 1, A. Bolton ½, Strizic ½).