By Bruce Sayler
Butte High head volleyball coach Kristina Berg exuded confidence in the Bulldogs after their loss on Saturday.
The confidence showed in how she thought her team could’ve and should’ve played better against undefeated power Billings Senior. The Broncs loped into Butte and put up a 25-14, 25-13, 25-11 Eastern AA Conference sweep over Butte High at the Ross J. Richardson Memorial Gym.
“I plead the fifth,” Berg joked afterward, then was serious. “We played them better down there (in Billings). This was the least amount of blocks we’ve had for any match all season. We have to figure out a way to get a touch. We usually have eight blocks, at least.”
The Bulldogs registered just two blocks in the contest. Perennial Class AA favorite Billings Senior brought a tall deeply talented lineup. Five of the Broncs stood 5-foot-10 or taller, topped out by 6-foot-2 junior Kola Bad Bear, very possibly the best volleyball prospect in the state.
“They’re always first or second (at State AA),” Berg said. “And, Kola is a very good athlete. They’re good.
“We’ve come a long way last year, though, and we’ve come a long way the couple of years. We’re winning a few matches now when, before, we were battling to win a few sets.”
Bad Bear blasted five kills, including four of five in one string of Bronc scoring shots, as her team took a commanding lead in the first game. Her last spike of the set gave Billings Senior a 19-9 cushion. The Broncs later got to set point, 24-13, on a kill by Hallee Conger, then picked up the set win when a Butte High shot sailed over the end line.
Much of the Bronc game was at the net. The team did not work so much for sets to good, deliberate shots so much as it capitalized on a dominant front line to keep the competition at the net. There, the Broncs teed off on returns and 50-50 balls until something hit the floor. The ploy was successful.
Senior Courtney Bad Bear’s decisive serving run in the second set pushed Billings Senior to its two-set advantage. The older Bad Bear took over the serve with a 6-3 lead and and ran off seven points in a row. One was on an ace, one was on a bump return 6-0 senior Raegan Steiner got to full into an open spot across the net, and two were scored on kills by 5-10 senior Aliciai Zimmerman and 5-8 sophomore Karli Steiner. Butte High mistakes marked the remaining points.
Bulldog senior Baylee Leary, celebrating her birthday, ended the streak with a kill. However, a kill by 5-10 junior Haddy Slade took the Broncs’ lead to 10 points, 14-4, and the Billings team was able to hold command the rest of the set. A Zimmerman tip shot tallied set point at 24-13 and then the 5-8 senior Bad Bear aced a serve to finish the game.
“We’ve been working on getting to the blocks all week,” Berg said. “We need to fit it now to where we’re working it with the back row.”
Another early serving run in the third set spurred the Broncs. They had a 6-2 margin after a tip shot by the Bulldogs snared in the net. Shyla Evig aced a serve for Billings Senior to start a six-point run that was highlighted by Zimmerman smacking three kills.
A block by the Broncs’ Samantha Bonenberger made it a 10-point test at 13-3. Sophomore Makenna Carpenter came off the bench for Butte High and fenced up a block for a side-out. The teams played pretty evenly, trading sideouts to 21-11. Karli Steiner killed a shot and took over the serve for Billings Senior. She served out as the Broncs scored on two Bulldog hitting errors, reached match point on a Steiner ace and ended the match with a Zimmerman block.
The Broncs are 10-0 for the season in conference play Kola Bad Bear led the team in kills with eight and blocks with three despite sitting out much of the last two sets Zimmerman had six Bonenberger set 12 assists Evig led in digs with eight.
Butte High is 2-8 in conference matches and 2-13 overall. Kira Mortensen, a 6-1 sophomore, belted seven kills and Brittney Tierney nailed six for the Bulldogs. Bethanney Foley set 11 assists. Keeley Pochervina served an ace and came up with 11 digs.
The Bulldogs will play two home non-conference matches this next week — Tuesday versus Belgrade and on Thursday against Dillon.
“We have to forget about today and get ready to play Belgrade on Tuesday,” Berg said. “Everybody has to show up and play their hardest.”
Billings Senior def. Butte High 25-14, 25-13, 25-11.
KILLS — Senior 28 (Kola Bad Bear 8, Aliciai Zimmerman 6, Hallee Conger 4, Karli Steiner 4, Courtney Bad Bear 2, Haddy Slade 2, Kelsey Sargent 1, Raegan Steiner 1). Butte 20 (Kira Mortensen 7, Brittney Tierney 6, Baylee Leary 3, Alissa Bernhardt 2, Cameron Cassidy 1, Keeley Pochervina 1). ASSISTS — Senior 26 (Samantha Bonenberger 12, Conger 8, C. Bad Bear 6), Butte 18 (Bethanney Foley 11, Sydney Christie 7). ACES — Senior 11 (C. Bad Bear 2, Conger 2, Evig 2, Sargent 2, Bonenberger 1, Slade 1, K. Steiner 1), Butte 1 (Pochervina). DIGS — Senior 27 (Evig 8, Bonenberger 4, R. Steiner 4, C. Bad Bear 3, Conger 3, Jordan Gilcrist 3, Sargent 1, K. Steiner 1), Butte 24 (Pochervina 11, Tierney 7, Jenna Maroney 3, Christie 2, Leary 1). BLOCKS — Senior 7 ½ (K. Bad Bear 3, Zimmerman 2, C. Bad Bear 1, Bonenberger 1, Sargent 1, K. Steiner 1). Butte 2 (Mortensen 1, Makenna Carpenter 1).