By Bruce Sayler
Beach party was the theme and the Butte High student crowd wore the shirts, and brought the shouts.
The girls’ volleyball team kicked sand in Missoula Big Sky’s face.
The Bulldogs walloped the Eagles 25-14, 25-13, 25-7 Tuesday night in the Butte Civic Center in their Western AA Conference home season-opener. It was one of the most lopsided wins in recent history, probably in all of Butte High’s volleyball history. Butte High stats
“It was a good match for our girls,” Butte High head coach Shane Jorgensen said. “’We’ve showed confidence in some games this year, but not like tonight. Our serving was keeping them off-balance, and our offense and defense was where it needs to be. That’s the most aggressive we’ve been, serving-wise.”
The Bulldogs nailed Big Sky with 14 aces, including five from Brooke McGrath and four by libero Jordyn Bolton. McGrath strung three of them together during a run late in the third game.
“We found our rhythm, kept pushing and didn’t let up,” McGrath, a 5-foot-9 senior outside hitter and third-year starter, said.
She had eight kills to go with her five aces in a solid night of hard hitting.
“It’s my favorite sport,” she said. “It was our first home game. We had a big cheering section.”
Jorgensen said the cheering section mattered after it was absent from last year’s schedule of matches due to the pandemic.
“The atmosphere was great,” he said. “We had a great student body presence. It makes a world of difference for our girls, to have people cheering them on. I can’ thank the supporters enough.”
Butte High’s volleyball matches have been moved to the Civic Center from the school’s smaller Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym to accommodate optional mask-wearing and to allow for greater social distancing in further trying to persist through the pandemic.
“We do all of our summer stuff in here,” Jorgensen said. “It’s a good place to play. (Civic Center manager) Bill Melvin is just amazing to us. Whatever we need, he is willing to help us out with.”
Winning big at home allowed for Butte High reserves to see more court time than would usually be expected.
“We got everybody in off the bench, tonight, which was great,” Jorgensen said. “Anytime you can get everybody into the match, you’re having a good night.”
The Bulldogs opened the season going 1-3 in a tip-off tournament in Belgrade, then began conference play with two road losses against Kalispell opponents last weekend.
“It’s been a long three weeks, so it was nice to be home tonight,” Jorgensen said. “We still have a long road ahead.”
Butte High notched 37 kills in the three sets as 6-3 senior Ashley Olson matched McGrath with eight, and Kennedie McMahon and Teagan Kennis both drilled seven. Olivia Quinn and Katie Keller combined for 28 assists, Quinn setting 18. Bolton came up with 12 digs and Mollee Conlan scooped 11. McGrath and Olson teamed on a block.
“Serve-receive is something we can work on,” Jorgensen said. “And, our passing can be sketchy at times. We need more success out of our back row. If we can’t serve-receive, then we can’t pass, set and hit.”
Butte High led wire-to-wire in the first set and had a 10-point lead at 21-11 after a Conlan score. Seconds later, McGrath mashed a kill to bring set point at 24-14 before McMahon ripped a kill set by Quinn for the set-ender.
Hadlea Fred’s block for Big Sky gave the Eagles a 1-0 edge as the second game began. The teams traded side-outs until Kennis tied the score 3-all with a kill and Conlan smoked a 50-50 ball to give the Bulldogs the lead.
Bolton served a six-point run that featured another kill by Conlan, two by McMahon and another by Kennis. The Eagles clawed back and pulled even at 10-all on an ace served by Natalie Ellis.
A Big Sky service error put Butte High back in front. Then, McGrath and Conlan both killed in a four-point run. Olson closed the set with a flurry and the Eagles were unable to stay with the Bulldogs. An ace by Quinn and a kill by Olson took the Butte High margin to 18-13, then McGrath served out the set with seven straight points. Olson had three of them with two kills and the co-block with McGrath. McGrath had a kill and McMahon a tip in the run. The other point was on an Eagle’s hitting error.
Keller served a five-point run for an 8-2 Bulldog lead in the third game. She belted two aces in it, and Conlan and Kennis both pasted kills.
McGrath’s ace-fueled run moments later opened a 20-6 Butte High advantage. A block by Fred ended the run, but was also the last point Big Sky would score.
Two Eagle errors followed and then Bolton registered an ace. Kennis finished Big Sky off with two kills.
Big Sky’s stats were few, but Ellis notched the Eagles’ only ace and also had five digs. Kaitlyn Anderson led in kills with four, and Lilli Meigs was tough at the net with four blocks. Rece Sandau dished eight assists, and libero Jordan Whitmire led in digs with six.
Butte High goes back on the road to play Western AA opponent Missoula Hellgate on Saturday in its next competition.