BOZEMAN — Even Missoula Sentinel setter Jordyn Schweyen was left a little in awe of what the Spartans and Billings Senior volleyball teams gave the state AA tournament fans Friday night at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
A battle royal was expected. The Spartans and Broncs delivered.
Sentinel won the five-set thrill ride 20-25, 25-13, 25-16, 25-27, 15-8 in the undefeated semifinal of the AA portion of the tournament. The Spartans (24-1) return to the championship round for the third consecutive year, and they get a chance to defend the title they won last year over the Broncs.
Though the undefeated matches for all four classes started at the same time, Senior and Sentinel were the teams left playing. Players and coaches from the other classes ringed the AA court to watch the two teams take their match to the limit.
It won’t be solace to the Broncs, who are the only team to beat Sentinel this year, but Schweyen and the Spartans knew they’d been in a tussle.
“That’s the match we’ve been looking forward to all year,” said Schweyen, a senior. “To come out and play an opponent like that is what is so exciting about volleyball. Them making this such a great game made this win so much better.”
Schweyen dished out 32 assists, and Kylie Frohlich had 15 kills and Elsa Godwin 11 to lead the Spartans. Maddy Hanich and Shelby Schweyen had five blocks each. Sarino Moreno had 27 digs.
Senior, meanwhile, took its first loss of the season. The Broncs (31-1) will have to win Saturday morning’s third-place game against Helena Capital if they want another shot at the Spartans. Even then, no matter who wins the third-place match, that team will have to beat Sentinel, the tournament’s lone unbeaten, twice to take home the title.
“If everybody does their job and we’re running on all cylinders, even though it’s going to be an uphill battle, I believe in this team,” Senior coach Sue Dvorak said.
Raegan Steiner led Senior with nine kills. Kola Bad Bear had six blocks and Jordan Gilcrist 21 digs.
Sentinel coach Erin Keffeler believes in her team as well. She said her program’s success extends beyond what the players can do on the court.
“Besides the tactic and the game plan and everything else, it’s all about the spiritual part, too,” Keffeler said. “That’s something that we definitely cherish. We have so many family members and supporters and grandparents, we just play for them and we play for each other. I think that’s what makes this team as deep as they are. It’s special.”
Helena Capital 3, Helena 2
Capital is back in the trophy round for the first time since the Bruins won it all in 2002 after beating crosstown rival Helena 25-18, 23-25, 25-21, 20-25, 15-8 in the fourth-place match.
“Oh, my gosh, this is incredible,” said Katie Culver, a senior. “We play them in Helena, obviously, but it’s a different stage, I mean, (it's) state. There’s a lot weighing on it so it feels great to win this.”
During the regular season, the Bruins beat their rivals in five sets, then four, and it wasn’t decided this time until the Bengals couldn’t handle Culver’s kill.
The victory ended Helena’s season, but it leaves Capital with at least third place. They’ll play Billings Senior, which sent the Bruins into the loser’s bracket in the second round, Saturday at 11 a.m. The winner of that match gets to challenge Sentinel for the title.
Jamie Pickens had 15 kills and Abby Marcille 14 for the Bengals (16-9). Taelyr Lieberg added 27 digs and Emily Feller 42 assists.
Sarah Ashley had 22 kills and 26 digs for Capital (21-7), which also received five blocks and three aces from Dani Bartsch.
Still standing on the court where they just won, the players seemed more interested in staying in the moment than worrying about what lay ahead.
“We busted our butts all season, so it’s a great feeling,” said Culver, one of four seniors on the Bruins’ roster.
Helena 3, Billings West 1
Helena held off a stubborn Billings West team and advanced to the fourth-place match with a 25-23, 17-25, 25-12, 25-22 win over the Golden Bears.
West was coming off a comeback win over Kalispell Glacier earlier in the day, but the Bengals didn’t allow the Golden Bears the opportunity to do that again.
Jamie Pickens had 19 kills and eight blocks and three aces for Helena (16-8).
The Bears, who finished the season 20-12, got 13 kills and 23 digs from Catherine Follett.
Helena Capital 3, Bozeman 1
Helena Capital rebounded from a first-set loss and went on to eliminate Bozeman 21-25, 25-20, 25-10, 25-17 in the loser-out round.
Sarah Ashley had 14 kills and 23 digs, and Katie Culber added 10 kills and 15 digs to lead the Bruins, who finished second in the Western AA during the regular season. Dani Bartsch had five aces.
The win allowed the Bruins (20-7) to stay in the hunt for their first state title since 2002.
Bozeman, the East’s second seed, saw its season end at 13-10 under first-year coach Ashley Obstar.
Mara Lynch led the Hawks in kills (9) and digs (15).
Billings West 3, Kalispell Glacier 2
Billings West won its first state-tournament match since 2012 by rallying from a two-set deficit to beat Kalispell Glacier 14-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-13, 15-11 in the loser-out round.
The Golden Bears had lost their previous eight matches at state before their comeback.
West’s season seemed to be over after the Wolfpack, already up 2-0 in sets, started the third on a 7-0 run. But the Bears rallied, eventually taking a 12-11 lead, and went on from there.
Catherine Follett led the Bears, who reached the 20-win plateau, with 11 kills. Megan Benton added 10. Shauna Stene had seven blocks and Follett five to help West finish with 14. Kinzee Koch made 24 digs.
Aubrie Rademacher’s 14 kills and eight blocks led Glacier. McKenna Johnson had five aces and 19 digs.
Bozeman 3, Great Falls 0
Mara Lynch had 14 kills and Angelle Diamond had four blocks to help Bozeman sweep Great Falls and eliminate the Bison 25-19, 25-20, 25-23 and stay alive in the Class AA state volleyball tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Sutton Vargo (16), Ayla Embry (12) and Lynch (12) all had double digits in digs for the Hawks.
For Great Falls, Danielle Devlin had nine kills, 12 assists and 12 digs for the Bison. Hailey Little led Great Falls with 21 digs.