Panthers stay unbeaten, down Maroons in four

By Bruce Sayler

Butte Central simply didn’t have enough to overcome an excellent Belgrade volleyball team Tuesday night. The Panthers topped Butte Central 25-14, 26-24, 21-25, 25-13 in a non-conference Class A match played in the Maroon Activities Center.

It was a showdown worthy of attention. Belgrade came into the match undefeated at 10-0. The Maroons placed third at last year’s state Class A tournament.

“They’re good,” conceded BC head coach Becky Hancock. “They have height and I think we struggled with that tonight.”

The tallest Butte Central players are 5-foot-10 senior hitter Corbyn Holm and 5-9 senior setter Emily St. John. The Panthers’ roster includes four players 6-foot or taller and all of them  — 6-0 senior Sydney Lambeth, 6-2 sophomore Madison Catron, 6-2 sophomore Madison Krieger and 6-3 sophomore McKenna Carlson — played. So did 5-10 junior Brooke Gilbertson, 5-10 sophomore Bailey Christensen and 5-9 sophomore Olivia Cook. Christensen clubbed 24 kills against the Maroons.

They’ll be trouble to deal with for awhile.

“We usually are unable to match up with height,” Hancock said. “Usually, our competitiveness gets us through it. Tonight, I felt like we were there, and then we weren’t there. It was a roller coaster.

“I think it’s about mental toughness.”

Briane Batey served Belgrade out to a 6-0 lead to start the match and Butte Central never really recovered in the first game. It was a 17-7 difference after a Christensen kill and got to set point at 24-14 on another one. Christensen then aced the next serve for the Belgrade game win.

Belgrade pulled out the second game win at the end. The Maroons had set point at 24-22 after a Panther hit sailed wide. Carlson and Lambeth then combined on a block for another Belgrade point before Lambeth tallied a solo block to tie the score. Taylor Christensen then dug out a BC shot and bumped it into open space for the go-ahead point. Bailey Christensen again finished the game, this time with a kill.

Serving runs by Mollie Peoples and Holm carried Butte Central to a 13-6 advantage in game three. Belgrade committed several errors in both sprees. The Panthers battled back and pulled to within 21-20 on a Lambeth kill. The next Belgrade shot traveled long over the end line. Olivia Bolton took over serve and the Maroons reached game point, 24-20, after a kill by Taylor Wahl was followed by a four-hit call against the Panthers. After a sideout, BC clinched the game win on a kill by Peoples.

Belgrade ran off 10 straight points and outscored the Maroons 18-2 the latter parts of the fourth game to pick up the match victory. BC held an 11-7 lead and lost serve on a Shania Neubauer tip. Batey then served the Panthers to a 17-12 advantage. Neubauer’s push shot into the Butte Central backcourt broke an 11-all tie. Taylor Christensen gained serve for Belgrade at 18-12  and the Panthers played out the victory. Batey powered two aces in her run, and Lambeth and Bailey Christensen led the hitting attack. Butte Central’s only offensive point during the Panther hot streak was a kill by Kassidy Criscuolo. Bailey Christensen’s tip placement brought match point at 24-13 and then Neubauer nailed an ace to end the match.

“I don’t think we played horrible, tonight,” Hancock said, “I just don’t think we played together. We have four seniors (Peoples, Wahl, Holm and St. John) who play all the way around, and that wears on kids.

“I think our kids need to get excited, to be staying up in a match. They need to take the little moments and be excited about them, need to be focusing on the things we need to do.”

The coach added that some of the kinks her team will be working on will be tightening a “couple of loose rotations” as the Maroons continue the gelling process.

Holm had 12 kills and St. John 27 assists to pace the BC girls. Holm also came up with 17 digs and St. John scooped 13. Bolton posted three blocks.

Butte Central is now 4-3 for the season and will play next on Saturday at Polson in another non-conference match.

Belgrade def. Butte Central 25-14, 26-24, 21-25, 25-13
KILLS — Belgrade 43 (Bailey Christensen 24, Sydney Lambeth 7, Shania Neubauer 6), Butte Central 30 (Corbyn Holm 12, Taylor Wahl 7, Mollie Peoples 7, Emily St. John 2, Olivia Bolton 1, Kassidy Criscuolo 1). ASSISTS — Belgrade 36 (Neubauer 35), Butte Central 29 (St. John 27, Bolton 1, Wahl 1). ACES — Belgrade 8 (Briane Batey 5), Butte Central 4 (Bolton 1, Criscuolo 1, Holm 1, Wahl 1). DIGS — Belgrade 78 (Taylor Christensen 32, B. Christensen 11, Batey 9), Butte Central 69 (Holm 17, St. John 13, Peoples 9, Wahl 9, Zoe Sullivan 8, Samantha Burton 6, Bolton 5, Criscuolo 2). BLOCKS — Belgrade 10 (McKenna Carlson 4), Butte Central 6 (Bolton 3, St. John 1, Holm 1, Wahl 1).