By Bruce Sayler
Jeni Hope hinted at premonition when she told herself “I know we’re going to win.” The Butte High coach got the feeling from an especially tough 2-1/2-hour practice she put the Butte High volleyball team through on Monday.
What transpired was an ESP-like five-set win for the Bulldogs over C.M. Russell of Great Falls. The Eastern AA Conference match was held in Butte High’s Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym and the scores were 14-25, 25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 15-9.
So, smiles were all around, except, of course, on the Russell bench. It was Butte High’s first home win of the year and came from an intense contest. Whichever team was to win, was to certainly earn it.
“That was a really good sign,” Hope, in her first year at the helm of the Bulldogs, said. “We had a really hard practice yesterday and all that sweat, all that skin we left on the floor was worth it. The way we worked in practice, though, I knew that we were going to win.”
The tie-breaker set was convincing in the Bulldogs’ favor. They never trailed in it. They finished it when a Rustler’s serve failed to reach the net. Maybe, fatigue was the cause. Butte High was at match point on 14-7 after a CMR hitter shanked a shot off the side of her hand. Russell scored the next two points, however, to lend continued suspense. Butte High was guilty of a double-hit for one of the points and 6-foot-3 junior middle blocker Allie Olsen fenced up a block to make it a 14-9 count. Then, the serve fell short of the net and home crowd cheered the Butte High successful ending to match.
“I thought we played fair in Great Falls over the weekend,” Hope said, referring to the Bulldogs’ 3-5 mark in the Great Falls Invitational. “We weren’t terrible, but I thought we should have won a couple more matches than we did. So, we worked very hard in practice yesterday.”
Butte High held a 2-1 lead through three sets, then saw the Rustlers rally back to tie the match score.
“In game four, our intensity was low, we weren’t really there,” Hope said. “But in game five, if was like, ‘C’mon, we’re not going to lose.’ ”
Butte High opened the fifth set with a 4-1 run behind the serving of Maddie Worley and Cameron LaFond. MaKenna Carpenter and LaFond pounded kills in the run. Carpenter drilled three kills in the tie-breaker, but it was a seven-point run that opened the gap to a more comfortable 11-4 spread. The Bulldogs didn’t play like they were comfortable, though. They kept up the pressure.
Trisha Ericson served the key surge, and Carpenter and Emma Field each blasted two kills in it. MacKenzie Tutty scored on a contested tip and Ericson got an ace out of a serve. Russell could do nothing with but juggle between three players.
“We went on the attack,” Hope said. “When we play to win, we can beat anyone.This really was a team effort. We talked yesterday and I told them that every team will score a point and every team will win games. We just have to work to not let them score the next point, or win the next game. Respond by getting your stops and our team did that, tonight, I felt.”
They did it, too, while battling sickness, too. Hope said five girls and herself have been hampered recently by sinus problems, adding to the wear of going against strong competition.
CMR took the first-game lead at 7-6 on a double-hit call against Butte High. The Rustlers steadily grew to the lead and got to set point at 24-12 on back-to-back aces by Teagan Taylor. A block by the 6-2 Field and a carry call against Russell delayed the end of the set, until 5-10 senior Madi Moore scored a stuffed block.
The Bulldogs erased the match deficit and went ahead by a game with wins in the second and third sets. The second set was a close competition that went back-and-forth much of the way until the Bulldogs got a 19-18 edge on a kill by 6-2 Kira Mortensen. They kept enough space to hold the Rustlers off to set point, 24-20, reached on a kill by Field. An ace by Brittney Tierney ended the set.
Butte High led sooner and longer in the third set and didn’t trail until a block by Olsen put the Rustlers ahead 15-14. A couple of ties and lead changes later, a shot by a CMR player sailed wide of the court and Butte High had an 18-17 edge. The Bulldogs led the rest of the way, reaching set point at 24-19 when the Rustlers fumbled a LaFond tip. Three side-outs later, a Rustler serve tangled in the net and finished the game.
Eight kills and a block by Olsen carried the Rustlers to the fourth-game win. She finished with 18 kills (it only seemed like a thousand) and six blocks. Her last kill in the fourth put up game point at 24-17 and then her ensuing ace serve forced the tie-breaker.
Other Russell leaders included Tenni Hiller with 31 assists and Lauren Lindseth with 33 digs. The loss dropped CMR to 6-7 for the season. The match was the Rustlers’ conference opener.
Butte High improved to 4-9, including a 1-3 Eastern AA record. Mortensen and Carpenter tied for the team lead in kills with 12 apiece, and Field belted nine, and LaFond eight. Grace McGrath and Tierney each served an ace. The team blocked well with Field posting six blocks, and LaFond and Mortensen five each. Worley set 30 assists and Tierney came up with 29 digs. Trisha Ericson scooped 23 digs.
“I feel we really turned a corner tonight,” Hope said. “We worked on a lot of things — passing, serving, serve receive, footwork … a lot of things. I’m proud to be a part of it, it is so exciting, is so much joy.”
“It’s fun to win.”
The Bulldogs are to play at Dillon on Thursday in a non-conference match, then will host Billings Senior on Saturday in a league counter.
Butte High def. Great Falls C.M. Russell 14-25, 25-20,25-21, 17-25, 15-9.
KILLS — CMR 37 (Allie Olsen 18), Butte 53 (Kira Mortensen 12, MaKenna Carpenter 12, Emma Field 9, Cameron LaFond 8, MacKenzie Tutty 6, Brittney Tierney 3, Kennadie McMahon 2, Brooke McGrath 1). ACES — CMR 10 (Olsen 3, Lauren Lindseth 3), Butte 2 (Tierney 1, Grace McGrath 1). ASSISTS — CMR 33 (Tenni Hiller 31), Butte 50 (Maddie Worley 30, G. McGrath 18, Tierney 1, Field 1) . DIGS — CMR 96 (Lindseth 33), Butte 82 (Tierney 29, Trish Ericson 23, Devin Amtmann 8, G. McGrath 8, LaFond 4, Worley 4, Carpenter 3, Field 2, Tutty 1). BLOCKS — CMR 7.5 (Olsen 6), Butte 11 (Field 6, LaFond 5, Mortensen 5, Carpenter 3, McMahon 1).