Bulldogs serve up exciting outlook for volleyball

By Bruce Sayler

Butte High’s varsity/junior varsity volleyball roster might really comprise one team.
Little difference was seen Friday where apparently good depth in the program saw the two units play each other in a scrimmage. They split.
The varsity rallied for a 25-12 win after the second-stringers upended the No. 1 squad 25-23 in the opener. The scrimmage went only two games.
“They’re definitely competitive on the floor,” head coach Shane Jorgensen said after the practice match in the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym before a good-sized crowd that came out to see the team in action.
“This is one of the few year I’ve had when everyone on the floor has a heavy arm,” Jorgensen said, alluding to the good hitting displayed in the scrimmage. “They can all put it down. And, they enjoy playing quite a bit.”
The four seniors said they like that it’s their turn to lead the team. It ends an anxious wait.
“We’re ready and we’re all excited,” Taylor Drakos said. “We grew up together, built a lot of friendships (within the program) and just grew up with each other.”
Not all of the seniors are experienced at the varsity level. However, they’re veterans in the system.
“We’re really excited to play,” Mackenzie Hansen said. “It’s been a lot more fun coming to practice (this summer).”
Hansen said she thought the weekly four-on-four competition sessions in the offseason has had much to do with honing the team members’ skills.’
The Bulldogs will begin their season with a non-conference road trip to Billings, meeting Billings West and Billings Senior in 12:30 and 4:30 p.m. varsity matches. Their first home match is set for September 5, the Western AA Conference launcher versus Missoula Sentinel.
“Our strength is our hitting,” Maddie Luedtke said, also noting the power in that hitting is up a few notches over recent seasons all around the spots and then agreeing the identity will label the team and is a product of the girls having played together so much.
Junior setter Caly Skocilich served the bench to a 3-0 lead to start the day as Mickenzie McIntyre tallied on a dig and on a kill. The first-teamers caught up at 3-all thanks to some errors by their opponents. The reserves broke the tie with a Mylee Demarais kill and led the rest of the set. Consecutive aces by junior Peyton Trabert helped the varsity close the gap to 22-21, but then junior Cassie Casagranda got a kill. McIntyre followed with an ace for set point, 24-21. The usual starters came back on a tip by Jaycee Cleveland and ace by Emma Johnson. Lyla Skocilich then charged the net to smoke a kill off of freshman Cadence Graham’s set for the second-stringers’ win.
The varsity took over in the second game. It took a 3-0 lead behind Cleveland’s serving and a kill and a stuff, both by Sophia Gransbery. The first unit led all the way. Gransbery took over the serve with a 15-12 edge and served out as she her courtmates rattled off 10 straight unanswered points. The roll began with a Brityn Stewart kill and was followed by a Gransbery ace, a JV rotation violation, a JV hitting error, a Trabert kill, another Gransbery ace, another Trabert kill, another Gransbery ace and then yet another Trabert kill that was set by Cleveland for set point, 24-12. Stewart’s block forced a second team’s error, a hit tangled in the net, and the scrimmage was over.
“They don’t let their mistakes be something they dwell on,” Jorgensen said, telling another difference in this team. “In past years, they’d let them, the mistakes, multiply. This year, they’re not letting that happen. I guess they have short memories.”
The four seniors said it has to do with their trust in teammates. They’ve not only played together a long time, they’ve prepared to play together for a long time.
“We’ve done more in the weight room this year,” McIntyre said. “We’ve done the summer workouts.”
They’ve proven to be hard workers.
“The open gym has made us better and every sport has its own open gym,” said Drakos, a multisport athlete.
Hansen reminded her classmates and teammates how much they put into travel ball, too, this summer.
“We had a good season,” she said, “playing travel volleyball for the Butte Velocity team.”
What hasn’t changed is the dearth of inches of the team on the skyward end. Demarais is the tallest player at 5-foot-10 and Johnson is next at 5-9. The Bulldogs have no 6-footers on the varsity/junior varsity roster and it is likely every other Class AA program will be blessed with at least one and probably more.
“They have meshed well,” Jorgensen said of the Bulldog players. “We have great senior leadership, we have a good freshman in Cadence and we have a transfer from Manhattan and our other sophomores and juniors. They’ve all meshed.
“I’m excited to get going.”
McIntyre flavored the season going in a little bittersweet, though.
“It’s exciting, but it’s also sad,” she said. “We’re seniors. It’s our last year.”