By Bruce Sayler
Butte High fought off challenges Friday, gained more confidence and showed resiliency in a 25-15, 25-21, 25-15 win over Missoula Hellgate at the Western AA Divisional high school volleyball tournament.
With the sweep of the Knights in their loser-out game, Butte High remained in contention for a state tournament berth. The Bulldogs are also in the running for third place in the divisional being played through Saturday in the Butte Civic Center.
Butte High will next play at 9 a.m. on Saturday in an elimination game. The opponent will be the loser of Friday’s later Missoula Sentinel-Helena High semifinal. Winners of Saturday morning’s loser-outs will earn state tourney spots and will meet at noon for third place in the divisional.
“Our serve-receive was on,” Shane Jorgensen, head coach of the Bulldogs, said. “When we pass well and when they’re serving at us, we usually score points. About 75 percent of the time we score is when we pass well.
“Our confidence was there, today, and our hitting was a lot better.”
Butte High was bouncing back from a disappointing three-set loss to Flathead High of Kalispell in Thursday’s opening round. So, the team’s hitting was much better Friday as exemplified by senior Mickenzie McIntyre’s 14 kills.
Hellgate threw a teenie scare at the Bulldogs early, though, and then a more serious challenge in the second set. In the first, while the Butte High girls were trying to erase Thursday’s loss from their memories, the Knights shot out to a 3-1 lead. Alex Mesery killed the first point of the contest and then a Butte shot was too long. Hellgate led 2-0 and then McIntyre slammed her first point. Donalynn Headswift lofted a soft kill into empty territory and the Knights’ advantage was 3-1.
The Bulldogs didn’t panic. Maddie Luedtke pounded a kill and then Brityn Stewart scored on a block and the set was even at 3-all. A Hellgate try missed long and Butte High had its first lead. The teams traded points to 5-all before Bulldog setter Jaycee Cleveland bumped a return backward over her head and the net. It found floor and Butte High led the rest of the set.
The Bulldogs got to set point and opened up a 10-point lead, 24-14, on another Stewart block. Two serves later, Stewart belted a kill though the Hellgate block as the Bulldogs won the set.
Butte High led the whole second set, but had to weather a fierce comeback by the Knights. Three straight Hellgate miscues sent the Bulldogs to the early 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs opened it to 20-10 and seemed well in control. The Knights had been suffering some hitting wildness, then found their range. They thinned the margin to 22-14 and then Savannah Shepherd took over serve for Hellgate. She served six straight points, beginning the run with an ace. She added another ace after a Braydie Neil kill and then Butte High suffered two hitting errors. A tip by Neil lessened the Bulldog advantage to 22-20 and Knights fans had their cheer volumes on loud.
Stewart plastered a set by Cleveland to quell the crowd and end the Hellgate surge. The Knights tallied once more when Moana Massey helped a teammate’s shot over the net on a tap. McIntyre then mashed two kills in a row for the Bulldogs, one for set point and the other for set win. Cleveland assisted on both.
“I wanted to try to give a couple girls who hadn’t played in a while some playing time,” Jorgensen said about the lead almost evaporating. “But, you always risk that happening when you put them in that situation.”
Hellgate had a 1-0 lead in the third set after a kill by freshman Elly Stokman, but Butte High caught fire and strung four kills together. Mylee Demarois downed the first one, then Luedtke clobbered three in a row. The Knights stayed close for a while before Butte High pulled away.
An ace by Luedtke made for a 24-14 set point and lead for the Bulldogs. Neil scored on a kill, delaying the end for the Knights, which then came on a kill by Stewart set up by Cleveland.
“(The Bulldogs) say we play better with our backs against the wall,” Jorgensen said. “Well, guess what? – they’re against the wall now the rest of the way.
“I’m excited for (Saturday). Nobody is expecting us to win, whether it is going to be against Sentinel or Helena. I like being the underdog.”
The Butte High football team showed up Friday morning to cheer for the volleyball team before boarding its bus to Bozeman where it was headed to play Bozeman High that night in the state AA playoff quarterfinals.
Jorgensen and the volleyball team noticed.
“I told the girls to go to Bozeman tonight and cheer on the football team,” he said. “And, then get back safely and be ready to play more volleyball (Saturday).”
Neil finished with seven kills and Meservy with six to lead the Hellgate offense. Shepherd served three aces, Massey had 18 assists and libero Morgan Meissner came up with 11 digs.
Makenzie Dayhuff and McIntyre finished with two aces each for Butte High. Stewart hit six kills for second on the team behind McIntyre’s 14. McIntyre had only one hitting error. Cleveland had 27 assists and Stewart came up with 11 digs. Stewart and Peyton Trabert each posted three blocks.
Butte High def. Missoula Hellgate 25-15, 25-21, 25-15.
KILLS – Hellgate 21 (Braydie Neil 7, Alex Maservy 6), Butte High 35 (Mickenzie McIntyre 14, Brityn Stewart 6, Maddie Luedtke 5, Jaycee Cleveland 4, Mylee Demarois 2, Sophia Gransbery 2, Cadence Graham 1, Peyton Trabert 1). ASSISTS – Hellgate 19 (Moana Massey 18), Butte High 31 (Jaycee Cleveland 27, Kenzie Hansen 2, Stewart 1, McIntyre 1). ACES – Hellgate 5 (Savannah Shepherd 3), Butte High 5 (Makenzie Dayhuff 2, McIntyre 2, Luedtke 1). DIGS – Hellgate 30 (Morgan Meissner 11), Butte High 50 (Stewart 11, Cadence Graham 10, Cleveland 7, Trabert 5, McIntyre 5, Hansen 4, Luedtke 4, Taylor Drakos 3, Dayhuff 1). BLOCKS – Hellgate 2 (Elly Stokman 1, Maservy 1), Butte High 5 (Stewart 3, Trabert 3, Luedtke 2, Demarois 2).