BC spikers begin in Polson

The last full weekend in August will be spent at the lake by the Butte Central high school girls’ volleyball team, but it won’t be any day at the beach for the Maroons.
They’ll be playing in the Northwestern/Southwestern A Tip-Off Tournament for volleyball teams with Polson serving as host. Matches will be played through the day, both Friday and Saturday. The competition should be tenacious. The Northwestern A is always a good league, and Butte Central could be an emerging power in Southwestern A.
Ninth-year head coach Kaila Minehan has to replace three keys seniors from last year’s BC team that barely missed the school’s first trip to the state volleyball tourney. The Maroons went 10-3 in conference play in 2011, finishing second in the regular season. They wound up third in the divisional tournament and the top two teams went on to the state tourney in Bozeman.
“I’m glad to have two tournaments with which to start out the season,” Minehan said. “We’ll have a lot of practice and competition early. We’ll see and meet a lot of good teams in these tournaments.”
The BC squad returns a good nucleus of experienced players from last year, and might have a wealth of talent in the lower grades. Four freshmen have made the varsity squad and figure to factor enough in the Butte Central fortunes that they won’t be seeing so much time on the subvarsity floor.
“The JV and freshman coaches are mad at me,” Minehan said, “for taking their best players.”
So, it should be an entertaining blend to watch.
Returning starters are senior setter Shannon McLaughlin, 6-foot-1 senior middle blocker Mariah Cooney and senior libero Danika Neumann, who was voted as the Southwestern A Conference Defensive Player of the Year last autumn. McLaughlin scored 39 aces to tank third in the league and came up with 46 digs. Cooney totaled 108 kills and 31 blocks. She ranked seventh in conference in blocks. Neumann scrambled for 193 digs, seventh in the Southwestern A.
Other returnees from last year’s squad are seniors Danee Leary, Annie Ossello and Taylor Marthaller, and juniors Sadie Harrington. Juniors Cassidy McGree and Erin Antonioli, and sophomore Ashley Marthaller are up from the sub varsity program.
The four freshmen tabbed for varsity action are Shawnee Hjelt, Lacey McGree, Teresa Piazzola and Sierra Pica.
Ossello, a good front-line prospect, has missed much of the preseason with an injury. Leary has shown good power and Harrington has played well in the middle. Taylor Marthaller figures to share setting duties with McLaughlin in Minehan’s rotation ploy.
Cooney figures to be the go-to hitter and Neumann will key back-row play. Cassidy McGree and Ashley Marthaller also are looked to for their deep defense while Antonioli bring a tough serve. Hjelt also has a good serve while the other freshmen form good block potential, Minehan said.
“Teresa will be a great blocking force on the outside,” the coach said. “By the end of the season, people will think she’s played for four years.”
The block will be important, Minehan stressed, because of the offensive power the Maroons expect to see from their league opponents.
“Hamilton and Stevensville have good, outstanding hitters, so we need a solid block,” Minehan said.
She noted that the conference might be up a notch or two in quality this campaign, too.
“Hamilton has the good hitters and a solid defense,” Minehan said. “Dillon will be better and is coached very well. They had some younger kids last year who were really starting to develop by the end of the season. I expect Anaconda to come back and be strong. Stevensville lost quite a bit last year, but I still expect them to be strong. Corvallis will be competitive and could sting somebody. They remind me of us when we were in the Central A Conference. We weren’t always among the top teams but were capable of beating them, rising up and stinging somebody. Corvallis is dangerous like that.
“And, our group of seniors is determined to have a good season.”