By Bruce Sayler
Butte High saved its best for last, but a good Missoula Sentinel club won anyway.
Sentinel swept the Bulldogs 25-18, 26-24, 25-22 in a highly competitive loser-out match – loud crowd, acrobatic plays and long rallies – Saturday morning at the Western AA Divisional high school girls’ volleyball tournament in the Butte Civic Center.
The loss ended a 7-20 season for Butte High. Sentinel qualified for the state AA tourney with the win and was to play later Saturday against the winner of the Helena Capital-Kalispell Flathead match for third place at the divisional.
Errors were much fewer than they had been for the Bulldogs. However, they were crucial. The second set went into extra serves before a wide-of-mark return ended it. Then a rare call, a foot fault, finished the Butte High season at the service line – the last point of the last match.
“Yes, 100 percent, they went out playing their best volleyball,” head coach Shane Jorgensen, proud of the effort, disappointed the season was over, said with emotion showing after the match. “It was all I could ask for. They gave their best.”
Jorgensen said the Bulldogs came to the arena ready to hit the floor swinging. Sentinel was one of only two teams to defeat co-favorite Helena High this year and had defeated Butte High twice in conference play.
“It seemed like the last half of this season, when we played one of the top four teams, the girls had a different look about them,” Jorgensen said. “I don’t think they were intimidated but didn’t seem confident. Today, when they walked in, they had their focus and their communication was great.
“They had that look in their eyes.”
Sentinel took the early lead. Ava Kellenberg, one of eight seniors on the Spartans’ roster, clubbed a kill to start the day. Sentinel widened its lead to four points, twice, the last at 10-6 on a Margaret Sharkey block before the Bulldogs pulled even. Maddie Luedtke served an ace to square the score at 14-all.
However, Sentinel jumped out ahead again, edging ahead on a Bulldog serving error and using quality serving runs by Bailey Casagrande and Peyton Size to open a 23-16 advantage. Net play by Haylee Spicknall and Summer Palmer supported the serving.
A Spicknall kill brought set point at 24-18, then teammate Kennedy Dypwick finished with an ace.
“Records don’t mean anything in tournaments,” Jorgensen said, and the Bulldogs came out for the second set undaunted.
Again, Kellenberg killed, this time slamming a 50-50 ball hovering above the net, for a 1-0 Sentinel lead. Butte High, though, lurked. Four points was the widest gap the whole set and occurred just once and favored the Bulldogs, 14-10. A Taylor Drakos ace ignited the run that also included a Luedtke kill and a Sentinel net infraction.
The Spartans caught back up and the teams dueled the rest of the set, Sentinel reaching set point at 24-23 when Butte High was whistled for net interference. Brityn Stewart powered a kill for the Bulldogs to tie the count and require extra serve. A marathon rally that brought the fans to their feet and simulated a tumbling, lunging, leaping, diving choreography ended with a Butte High return tangling in the net. Size served for the Spartans on 25-24 and a Bulldog shot missed wide.
Butte High got out front first in the third set as the Spartans were called twice for being in the net. Sentinel caught up soon, battled for the lead with the Bulldogs and went ahead for good when a Sharkey block broke an 11-all tie.
The Spartans never got more than four points ahead and led by only 23-21 after Stewart blasted a kill for Butte High. Sentinel got match point on the next shot, a kill by Kellenberg. Stewart killed again for the Bulldogs and it was a 24-22 difference before the foot-fault call brought the end.
“We were one mistake away from winning in both those games,” Jorgensen said. “The girls were all in to win. Even when we were down a couple points, it seemed like we had the momentum.”
Kellenberg had 12 kills to lead the Sentinel offense. Size notched 28 assists, Kennedy Williams whopped three aces, Casagrande came up with 18 digs and Spicknall recorded four blocks.
Stewart paced Butte High with 12 kills. Cleveland collected 24 assists, and Stewart posted four blocks and scooped 18 digs.
“I couldn’t ask for a better group of girls to be around,” Jorgensen said. “We had more fun the last four weeks at practice than in the four years I’ve been here. It’s hard to be excited each and every day.”
Missoula Sentinel def. Butte High 25-18, 26-24, 25-22.
KILLS – Sentinel 34 (Ava Kellenberg 12, Margaret Sharkey 7, Haylee Spicknall 5, Nina Summoury 4, Summer Palmer 3, Peyton Size 2, Elise Hauck 1), Butte High 32 (Brityn Stewart 12, Maddie Luedtke 7, Mickenzie McIntyre 7, Jaycee Cleveland 3, Peyton Trabert 2, Mylee Demarois 1). ASSISTS – Sentinel 30 (Size 28, Bailey Casagrande 2), Butte High 29 (Cleveland 24, Kenzie Hansen 3, Stewart 1, Taylor Drakos 1). ACES – Sentinel 6 (Kennedy Williams 3, Casagrande 1, Kennedy Dypwick 1, Size 1), Butte High 3 (Cleveland 1, Luedtke 1, Drakos 1). DIGS – Sentinel 54 (Casagrande 18, Size 9, Kellenberg 7, Poppy Strachan 7, Williams 2, Palmer 2, Spicknall 1, Summoury 1), Butte High 63 (Stewart 18, Cadence Graham 12, Cleveland 10, Hansen 9, Luedtke 6, Drakos 6, Trabert 1, Demarois 1). BLOCKS – Sentinel 10 (Spicknall 4, Sharkey 3, Dypwick 1, Summoury 1, Palmer 1), Butte High 6 (Stewart 4, Cleveland 3, Luedtke 2, Demarois 2, McIntyre 1).