By Bruce Sayler
Alarm clocks went off at different times Thursday for the Dillon and Butte Central high school volleyball teams.
Dillon won the Southwestern A Conference match with a 25-23, 25-18, 25-19 sweep at the Maroon Activities Center. However, the Beavers, in the beginning, found themselves with some catching up to do.
“We definitely started off slow tonight,” Dillon head coach Angela Racicot said. “It was our first match of the week and I thought our practices would have us better prepared.”
Butte Central led much of the first game. With sophomore Emma Keeley serving, the Maroons jumped out to a 3-0 advantage as the Beavers committed three straight hitting errors to launch the match.
Butte Central took its lead to 11-6 after a kill by sophomore Cassidy Strizic, who turned in a strong all-around performance. Dillon shook the cobwebs and caught up at 18-all behind serving by Savannah Hansen and hitting by Brynley Fitzgerald.
The Maroons went back ahead and held a 23-20 margin after an Olivia Bolton serving run and another Strizic kill. The Beavers caught back up at 23-all on a Butte Central hit into the net, gained set point on a kill by Fitzgerald that the Maroons’ Sophie Sullivan nearly saved on an amazing dig attempt, and scored the winner on a shot by Nicole Hritsco that caused a Butte Central four-hit infraction.
“I loved how we started out tonight,” Butte Central head coach Becky Hancock said. “They looked great out there. So, what we talked about in the locker room tonight was finishing. Simple mistakes are adding up and hurting us in the end.”
Both teams returned a nucleus of good players from last season and then mixed in new regulars. Butte Central’s are a little younger, but both programs have traveled miles in development these late summer and early autumn weeks.
Dillon wasted no time establishing control in the second game. Fitzgerald served her team to a 6-0 command, using two kills by Hansen and a block by Hritsco for punctuation. However, Butte Central didn’t go away.
The Maroons squared up with Sophia Burton serving for a 10-all knot after a kill by Allyson Mueller and a four-hit violation the Beavers committed. Butte Central couldn’t get over the top, though, and the Beavers wheeled out back ahead. A Fitzgerald kill grabbed the lead for good at 11-10. The Beavers widened the gap a bit as the set headed toward its end. Hansen aced a serve for set point, 24-18, and Fitzgerald blasted a kill though a Maroon’s block to put Dillon ahead 2-0 in the match score.
“Brynley Fitzgerald is one of the most competitive and athletic girls I’ve coached in 15 years,” Racicot said, adding that the 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter recently committed to Montana State for basketball next year. “She puts in so many hours of work and it’s never about her. We have this trust in each other.”
Hancock credited Dillon with working to gain the match advantage.
“Dillon is as scrappy as we are,” she said. “It was about wanting it, and the difference was Dillon staying composed. It’s about being the first to 25 and we’re not closing out opponents when we should.”
The lead went back and forth a couple of ties in the third set. Butte Central owned an 8-5 edge after a Dillon shot traveled too far. A Fitzgerald kill gave the Beavers an 11-10 edge and Fitzgerald served her team to a 15-11 difference. The Beavers stayed in rhythm and gained match point at 24-16 on yet another Fitzgerald kill.
The Maroons staved off three match points on two Dillon errors and a Strizic ace. However, Fitzgerald then sighted in a set by Halle Stewart and pounded it to the floor to cap the night.
“I love what I’m seeing out of Strizic, right now,” Hancock said. “She’s giving us strong play and serving well. It’s what we need from our outside hitters.
“Everybody is playing strong for us. We’re just having some lapses. I thought we played amazing tonight in certain ways, but I feel like we’re giving the games to opposing teams. As for parts we need to work on, communication is one.”
The Butte Central defense, both at the net and on the floor, drew praise from the Maroons’ coach. She reminded it is a young team not yet realizing how good it is and still finding its way. So, a lapse here and there, though sometimes costly, can also be a valuable lesson.
Racicot said Dillon has gone through a similar stretch.
“I’m really proud of our girls for coming up with a win,” she said, “but we need to be better. Our girls are extremely competitive. Even in drills in practice, they don’t want to lose.”
Progress, though, has been evident. Dillon has won six of its last seven matches while going to 7-3 for the season, including 5-2 in conference. Butte Central is 2-8 and 0-6.
“We’ve come a really long ways,” Hancock said. “I see how much we’ve improved. We’re just losing at the end, now, little things that gives the opponent a point, and then the momentum. We’ve come so far.”
Strizic belted 12 kills and an ace to lead the Butte Central offense. Kassidy Criscuolo came up with 20 digs and Olivia Bolton posted 10 assists. The Maroons will play at Hamilton on Saturday in another conference match.
Fitzgerald totaled 15 kills and 13 digs. Stewart set 20 assists and Hansen served three aces. Hritsco registered four blocks. Dillon will play at home against Stevensville on Saturday.
Dillon def. Butte Central 25-23, 25-18, 25-19.
KILLS — Dillon 30 (Brynley Fitzgerald 13, Savannah Hansen 7, Paige Rouse 4, Nicole Hritsco 4, Baylee Bair 2), Butte Central 18 (Cassidy Strizic 12, Allyson Mueller 3, Kassidy Criscuolo 2, Olivia Bolton 1). ASSISTS — Dillon 25 (Halle Stewart 20, Rouse 2, Tynn Christiansen 2, Bair 1), Butte Central 17 (O. Bolton 10, Emma Keeley 7). ACES — Dillon 9 (Hansen 3, Stewart 2, Kyndall Petersen 2, Fitzgerald 1, Hritsco 1), Butte Central 2 (Strizic 1, Criscuolo 1). DIGS — Dillon 52 (Fitzgerald 15, Petersen 11, Rouse 8, Hansen 7, Stewart 6, Bair 2, Hritsco 2, Christransen 1), Butte Central 54 (Criscuolo 20, Sophie Sullivan 8, Sophia Burton 5, O. Bolton 5, Keeley 5, Zoe Sullivan 5, Strizic 3, Chelsey McGree 2, Amira Bolton 1). BLOCKS — Dillon 8 Hritsco 4, Rouse 2, Stewart 2, Fitzgerald 2, Christiansen 1, Hansen 1, Bair 1), Butte Central 0.