By Bruce Sayler
Swings were surprisingly fairly radical for such a close match.
Butte High outlasted Missoula Big Sky 20-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-15, 15-7 Thursday night in a Western AA Conference high school girls’ volleyball match played in Butte High’s Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym.
The five-setter followed the two five-setters played in the subvarsity matches and so the varsity contest got off to a 45-minute late start. For competitiveness, it was worth the wait.
“It’s like they have a switch they decide to turn on and when they decide to start, they start playing,” Butte High head coach Shane Jorgensen said of the Bulldogs. “We don’t give up early. We know how to dig a hole, though, and play back from it. If we did not dig that hole first, it would sure be a lot easier. But, I guess we like playing from behind.”
The first set or two were the only ones actually close. It was a one-point game to 19-18 after Big Sy had taken a 3-2 edge on a Butte High hitting error. A Butte High serving error took the Eagles’ margin to 20-18 and then Butte-rooted fireballer Sadie McGuinn plastered two straight ace serves for Big Sky. A Bulldog four-hit infraction brought the night’s first set point and Shannon McGee fenced up a block for the Eagles, notching the set win.
The Big Sky block proved difficult for the Bulldogs all night. Shelby Clixby registered five blocks and McGee had three to lead their team’s defense at the net.
“We started trying to go around the blocker, first,” Jorgensen said, “and we don’t do that. We prefer to go through.”
So the Bulldogs went to the net and battled.
Obviously, back-and-forth play, momentum swings, followed most of the match as the teams traded wins to the tie-breaker.
Mickenzie McIntyre began and ended the tie-breaker set for the Bulldogs. She served first, pounded a kill for a 1-0 edge and eventually finished the match with an ace serve and a kill when the rotation turned over. The Bulldogs led 13-7 when McIntyre took her second turn at serve in the rotation. Her ace was bobbled by two Eagles before it fell to the court for set point. Then, McIntyre’s kill provided authoritative punctuation to the end.
She said she was only nervous the times of the match when the Bulldogs trailed or were in danger of falling behind. Neither happened in the fifth set.
“I’d been nervous because I didn’t want to lose,” she said. “When we were behind, everyone’s attitude would drop down and then everyone was different when we were ahead.
“(The last serve), I just didn’t want to hit it into the net. I was looking to keep it in bounds, not hit it past anybody.”
Taylor Drakos, Cadence Graham and Maddie Luedtke all had three-point serving runs in the tie-breaker set, and Big Sky was never able to chain a sequence.
Butte High first tied the match at 1-all with the win in the second set. The Bulldogs pulled away from a 15-13 edge on a seven-point serving run by the freshman, Graham. Luedtke and Jaycee Graham launched it with kills and then Brityn Stewart hammered two in a row, the second a blistering shot off a short set put up by Graham. Two Eagles errors wrapped around another kill by Luedtke and Butte High owned a 22-13 command until a side-out arrived on a service error.
The Bulldogs cruised the rest of the set, getting to set point, 24-16, on an ace by Luedtke. A hitting error delayed the winning point, and then McGee staved it off with a stuff and a kill before a Big Sky serve tangled in the net.
“I think in the first game, we were just down for so long,” McIntyre said. “In the second, third and fourth, we came together. And, then in the fifth game, the cheering does a lot for us.”
Big Sky regained the momentum in the third game and didn’t fall behind. The Eagles broke a 6-all tie on a kill by Kyler Latrielle and stayed ahead, though Butte High briefly lurked. Audrey Hale toed the service line for Big Sky after a Clixby block and rattled six more points, including two kills and a block by McGee. The Eagles hit set point at 24-15 on a McGuinn kill. Luedtke and Stewart smacked kills for the Bulldogs before Isabella Grutsch smashed the set-ending kill for Big Sky.
Butte High was completely recovered from the set loss when it took the court for the fourth. Luedtke, Stewart and McIntyre fired off serving runs that the Bulldogs rode to a 16-8 advantage. McIntyre mashed three kills along the way and Luedtke dealt a pair of aces. McIntyre’s kill off a Jaycee Cleveland set from across court along the net put set point at 24-15. Big Sky receivers and setter fumbled a Luedtke serve and it fell to the floor for a Butte High point.
It brought on the tie-breaker set.
“Homecoming Week is nuts to begin with,” Jorgensen said about keeping the team focused during the week’s celebration. “It’s tough to make this (the volleyball match) the first priority sometimes.”
Graham and Luedtke served three aces apiece to lead Butte High in that department. Luedtke also had 17 kills and McIntyre was right behind her with 16. Stewart walled off a pair of blocks. Cleveland and Stewart each had 10 digs and Cleveland set 36 assists while Graham set 11.
McGee led Big Sky with 11 kills and Clixby had eight. McGuinn blasted three aces and came up with 22 digs, and Hale made 24 assists.
The Bulldogs will be home on Saturday in Richardson Gym for matches that begin at 11 a.m. Teams from Missoula, Bozeman and Great Falls will join Butte High in the day’s slate.
Butte High def. Missoula Big Sky 20-25, 25-19, 18-25, 25-15, 15-7.
KILLS – Big Sky 32 (Shannon McGee 11, Shelby Clixby 8, Sadie McGuinn 5, Isabella Grutsch 4, Hayden Keintz 3, Carlyn Donovan 1), Butte 59 (Maddie Luedtke 17, Mickenzie McIntyre 16, Brityn Stewart 11, Peyton Trabert 6, Jaycee Cleveland 4, Mylee Demarais 4, Sophia Gransbery 1). ASSISTS 25 (Audrey Lane 24, Lainey Olson 1), Butte 51 (Cleveland 36, Cadence Graham 11, Mackenzie Hansen 3, McIntyre 1). ACES 5 (McGuinn 3, Kyler Latrielle 2), Butte 10 (Graham 3, Luedtke 3, Stewart 2, McIntyre 2). DIGS 76 (McGuinn 22, Olson 13, Latrielle 12, Gracia McCollum 11, Hale 9, Grutsch 3, McGee 3, Briella Wilson 1, Donovan 1, Keintz 1), Butte 71 (Hansen 18, Cleveland 10, Stewart 10, Graham 9, Trabert 8, Taylor Drakos 7, McIntyre 5, Luedtke 4). BLOCKS 10 (Clixby 5, McGee 3, Hale 1, Keintz 1), Butte 4 (Stewart 2, Cleveland 1, Trabert 1, McIntyre 1, Demarais 1).