The narrower separation span between veterans and newcomers on this year’s Butte High girls’ volleyball team might be a welcome and needed push to the program.
A talented group of underclassmen figures to challenge some good returnees for playing time and so practices should be intense and diligent in the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym at the school this fall.
This experiment in team chemistry goes on display Friday at 4 p.m. when the Bulldogs are to play Billings Skyview in the Richardson Gym. It will be Butte High’s season opener, home opener and Eastern AA Conference opener all rolled into one.
Skyview has never been a slouch in the sport either. The Falcons have two matches under their belts already this season, having lost to Helena Capital and Helena High on the road last weekend in Class AA non-conference play.
Butte High will play Billings West at 3 p.m. on Saturday in the Richardson Gym.
“We graduated six seniors,” fourth-year Bulldog head coach Dale Burgman said. “All but Hattie Thatcher, the libero, and Carlie Haeffner, a middle blocker, are newcomers.
“We have some potential to be the best blocking team I’ve had. We have great setters. I think our hitting has improved. Baylee (Thatcher) and McKaul (Ori) have good setting skills.”
Burgman seems to see a step up on both sides of the action this fall.
“Hattie is an outstanding libero,” he said. “We have a desire to win. Defensively, we frustrate teams by managing to keep balls in play.”
The Bulldogs were 6-19 last year and missed the state tournament for the fifth straight year. The 5-foot-3 Hattie Thatcher and 6-0 Haeffner are both seniors with ample experience. Baylee Thatcher, a 5-7 junior, and Ori, a 5-4 sophomore, both saw a lot of time on the court last year. Other returnees are 6-2 sophomore Brianna O’Mara and 5-6 junior Sammy McGree, both of whom came off the bench in 2011.
Burgman’s 4-2 offensive alignment figures to see Ori and Baylee Thatcher setting, McGree and 5-9 junior Jessie Buckley starting on the outside, and Haeffner and O’Mara patrolling the middle.
Other varsity candidates include 5-10 junior Rachel Anderson, 4-11 junior Haley Henderson and 5-9 sophomore Caleigh Norman. Several other underclassmen performed well for the sub varsity teams in recent team scrimmages and may push for time as the season proceeds.
Burgman said inexperience remains the notable weakness as he works on other areas.
“In the past, we have had problems attacking the other squad,” he said. “We hope to solve that this year. I have three pretty good middles in Carlie, Rachel and Brianna. We will borrow Billings Senior’s three-middle offense when Rachel is in with Brianna and Carlie. We have worked hard this summer to produce a quicker offense — more quicks, slides, etc.”
The coach said the advantage of having Hattie Thatcher at libero covering so much of the floor should allow the Butte High team to implement more triple- and double-blocks at the net against opposing front rows.
Burgman said always-contending Billings Senior is the probable favorite in Class AA for the state crown this season.