By Bruce Sayler
It just took Butte Central a little while to get over it and get on with it.
The Maroons shook off enough doldrums from a Friday night disappointment to outlast Polson 23-25, 17-25, 25-22, 25-21, 15-9 in a Saturday afternoon non-conference Class A high school girls’ volleyball match at the Maroon Activities Center.
Head coach Becky Hancock said BC’s three-set loss at Belgrade Friday night was taken hard enough by the Butte Central girls to slow their emotional readiness for the match with Polson.
“I felt we were still half asleep after our loss to Belgrade in Belgrade,” she said. “The third game was what we needed. We got a win and then we got going.”
If the Maroons had played their third game like they did their first two Saturday, they wouldn’t have been around for a fourth, much less a victory.
The comeback pleased their coach.
“I liked the finish,” Hancock said. “It says a lot about a team that’s down two and comes back.”
Emotion, momentum, spirit, enthusiasm, confidence — it was all on the Maroons’ side when the fifth-set tiebreaker launched.
Kassidy Criscuolo tipped in the first point of the set to gain the side-out and a 1-0 lead for Butte Central, then stepped to the service line. She fired an ace. Her next attempt was long.
Polson gained serve and its server extraordinaire, Laurel Bitterman, was limited to one. A Polson attempt of a soft placement tip didn’t get there, tangling in the net and returning serve possession to the Maroons.
Sophie Sullivan took over the serve and the game.
“I felt that was the fifth game,” Hancock said. “Sophie serving.”
She belted two aces in a nine-point run that gave BC a 12-1 command in a game to 15. Amira Bolton hit two kills, the first a net-climber, to start the run. Olivia Bolton tipped for a placement kill, and Cassidy Strizic smashed one. Polson mistakes tallied the rest of the points in the run.
However, once Kyla Blixt scored on a tip for the Pirates, her team tried to mix back into the game. Kaelyn Smith aced with Butte Central leading 13-3 to begin a three-point Polson run. A block by Amira Bolton put up match point, 14-6. Olivia Perez pounded a kill to help the Pirates stave off the loss — for a few minutes. Two BC errors made the difference 14-9 before Criscuolo finessed a set by Olivia Bolton for a tip kill that ended the match.
“Kassidy’s been solid for us all year,” Hancock said of Butte Central 5-foot-5 senior outside hitter. “She’s our leader out there. She’s really been showing it.”
The team’s switch flipped in the third game.
“We had a hard time in transition at the start of the match,” Hancock said, alluding to a Maroons squad that looked out of sync in the pre-third-game going. “Once we started moving, defensively, we started rolling it. It was fun in the third game. We found our rhythm, then really took off in the fifth game with Sophie serving.”
The start of the match, though, was slow and concerning for the BC side.
Paige Noyes delivered a key ace serve and Butte Central committed a crucial hitting error as Polson pulled out the win in the first game. Noyes’ ace broke a 23-all tie and created set point. A Maroon hitter misfired on the next BC set and the shot tangled in the net, ending the game. Neither team led by more than two points the entire set.
Bitterman’s service run at the start of the second set sparked the Pirates to a 9-1 command and they weathered Butte Central rallies the rest of the game. Bitterman’s six-point run included an ace along with kills by Grace Quinones and Noyes. The Maroons clawed back into the set and got to within two points twice. The last was at 16-14 after a Polson hitting error. The Pirates eventually worked the spread to set point, 24-16, on a kill by Smith. The Pirates hit a shot into the net, then scored the set-winner on a tip by Smith.
Butte Central skated on Polson errors for the last two points of the third set. A Pirate hitter blasted a shot too far o bring set point at 24-22. Then, two Polson players miscommunicated on a receive-and-set and let the ball drop on Pirates’ side of the net, causing a fourth game. The Maroons had fallen behind early on a Bitterman serving run, but fought back. Three Polson errors occurred off of Emma Keeley serves for Butte Central. The Maroons gained a 14-13 edge in the flurry. A Polson serving error soon gave BC the lead for good at 15-14. A Sophie Sullivan four-point serving run punctuated by blocks from the Butte Central Bolton sisters and an ace expanded the edge to 20-15 and positioned BC for the set win.
Butte Central had seized the momentum and comfort advantage.
Butte Central fought off the Polson rally to notch the fourth-game win. The Maroons led all the way, scoring first on a Polson shot hit too far, then getting an ace from Criscuolo. It was a 17-9 game after a block by Amira Bolton and kill by Strizic. Bitterman’s serving late in the set proved problematic for the Maroons again. Two Smith kills, two BC errors and a Bitterman ace closed the gap to 23-21. A Pirate’s try veered wide to bring set point at 24-21 before three Polson defenders were unable to handle a Strizic spike. It fell to end the set and force the tie-breaker.
“Our block is getting better,” Hancock said. “Our freshman middles — Amira and Ally (Allyson Mueller) — did awesome things tonight. They did a great job of finding (the Pirates’) middle hitters.
“We found (Smith) and shut her down later in the match and frustrated her.”
Strizic and Criscuolo led Butte Central’s offense with 12 and 11 kills, respectively. Keeley and Olivia Bolton combined for 27 assists. Sopie Sullivan’s two aces led the team. The Maroons’ floor defense was outstanding, led by Criscuolo with 24 digs. Strizic had 15, Keeley 14 and Olivia Bolton 13. Amira Bolton’s three blocks led the net defense.
Smith charted 16 kills to pace Polson. Mikaela DuCharme nailed 10. Bitterman and Jaycee Frydenlund split 30 assists. Bitterman and Smith served three aces apiece. Kyler Lundeen made 17 digs and DuCharme was the only Pirate credited with a block.
The win moved the Maroons’ season record to 2-7. They will be home on Thursday against Dillon in a return to Southwestern A Conference play.
“We had a great win tonight and now we are going to be starting the second half of our conference season against Dillon,” Hancock said. “We’re getting there. We’re getting better.”
Butte Central def. Polson 23-25, 17-25, 25-22, 25-21, 15-9
KILLS — Polson 30 (Kaelyn Smith 16, Mikaela DuCharme 10, Paige Noyes 2, Olivia Perez 2), BC 36 (Cassidy Strizic 12, Kassidy Criscuolo 11, Allyson Mueller 6, Amira Bolton 5, Olivia Bolton 1, Chelsey McGree 1). ASSISTS — Polson 30 (Laurel Bitterman 15, Jaycee Frydenlund 15), BC 32 (Emma Keeley 14, O. Bolton 13, McGree 4, Criscuolo 1). ACES — Polson 8 (Bitterman 3, Smith 3, Noyes 1, Perez 1), BC 5 (Sophie Sullivan 2, Samantha Burton 1, Strizic 1, Criscuolo 1). DIGS — Polson 27 (Kyler Lundeen 17, Bitterman 3, Noyes 2, Grace Quinones 2, Smith 2, Perez 1), BC 85 (Criscuolo 24, Strizic 15, Keeley 14, O. Bolton 13, S. Sullivan 7, Burton 6, Zoe Sullivan 3, McGree 2, A. Bolton 1). BLOCKS — Polson 1 (DuCharme), BC 6 (A. Bolton 3, McGree 2, Mueller 1, O. Bolton 1, Strizic 1).