Unbeaten Rustlers up first for surging Bulldogs

Unbeaten Rustlers up first for surging Bulldogs
Butte High players celebrate a point during a Sept. 20 match at the Butte Civic Center. They are, from left, Brooke McGrath, Joscelyn Cleveland (22), Ashley Olson (15), Molee Conlan (4), Ashlyn Burnett (17) and Katie Keller. (Butte Sports file photo)

Butte High opens State AA volleyball at 2 p.m.

By Bill Foley

Nobody outside of the Mining City expects Butte High to win its 2 p.m. match against Great Falls Russell Thursday in Bozeman.

That is just the way the Bulldogs like it.

Butte High is out to shock the state when it hits the road for the Class AA State tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, and the Bulldogs don’t care what the doubters say.

“It’s good to be overlooked,” Butte High second-year head coach Shane Jorgensen said. “Everybody says they’re the best, but we’re one of the best eight, too.”

The Bulldogs enter the tournament as the No. 4 seed from the Western AA. That is the place they earned at last week’s Western AA Divisional tournament in Kalispell. (Bracket)

Butte High also enters the tournament playing its best volleyball of the season. Counting the four matches at divisionals, the Bulldogs (11-17) have won six of their last eight.

CMR is 28-0 after winning the Eastern AA Divisional tournament in Billings.

“We really, really wanted to win that last game with (Kalispell) Glacier to stay away from CMR,” Jorgensen said of Saturday’s third-place match. “If we wanted to be playing on Saturday at State, we have to go through everybody.

“We have high expectations, but nobody expects much out of us. We’ve always been that low man on the totem pole, and it’s been nice to see us prove people wrong.”

CMR senior Lauren Lindseth led the Class AA with 5.7 kills per set, and senior Tennisen Hiller leads the state in assists per set and attack percentage.

Bulldog senior Mollee Conlan ranks second in the AA with 1.1 blocks per set. Senior Brooke McGrath is eighth with .5 aces per set, and senior Ashley Olson ranks eighth with a .314 attack percentage.

The list of state leaders, though, does not tell the story of the Bulldogs.

“Our defense is scrappy and you never know what you’re going to get,” Jorgensen said. “We have four or five kids who can lead us with kills. Most teams go to one person.”

Conlan, McGrath, Olson and seniors Kennadie McMahon and Teagan Kennis are all capable of lead the Bulldogs in matches. Seniors Katie Keller and Olivia Quinn run the Bulldog offense, and senior libero Jordyn Bolton is a leader in the backcourt.

Senior Joscelyn Cleveland and juniors Lauren Rosenleaf, Ashlyn Burnett, Wisdom Hanninen, Emmarie Richards, Camille Kautzman, Averie Olsen, Madison Seaholm and freshman Jaycee Cleveland are also contributors for the Bulldogs.

“When one player is struggling, the other players pick her up,” Jorgensen said. “We have a different stat leader every time.”

Jorgensen is assisted by Laura Mortensen, Jessica Downey, Amie Henningsen and Danee Leary.

After a slow start to the season, Jorgensen said the Bulldogs turned things around the second time through the Western AA. About the same time, Butte High’s players collectively stopped carrying about individual statistics, he said, and that was not a coincidence.

“They have decided to turn it on, and practices have been a blast,” the coach said. “They are smiling, having fun and working their butts off.”

The winner of the Butte-CMR match will play Bozeman or Kalispell Flathead at 8 p.m. Thursday. The loser will play Bozeman or Flathead in a loser-out match at noon on Friday.

The tournament is a true double-elimination format, meaning a team with a loss can still battle back to win the title.

Jorgensen said Butte High winning the opener is not out of the question, even if it might be the biggest sports story in the state if the Bulldogs pull it off.

“We’re going to have to play an extremely clean game to come out on top,” Jorgensen said. “I think we have a chance to shock CMR. At least that’s the girls are feeling.”

The Bulldogs are looking for their first state title since 1994. Butte High has not captured a top-three trophy since.

Butte High’s players will hit the road expecting to right that wrong.

“It’s time to bring a trophy home,” Jorgensen said. “It’s been a long time.”

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