The Corvallis volleyball team's catalyst for success this season came immediately after defeat.
It happened long before the Blue Devils first-round sweep of Glendive Thursday in the Class A state volleyball tournament at Bozeman, but it happened on that same gym floor at Montana State University's Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Corvallis lost to Belgrade in the third-place match at last year's iteration of the Class A state volleyball tournament. For the four Blue Devils that would become seniors on the 2018 squad, that moment holding the bronze trophy was wholly unsatisfying.
"We were all so frustrated and we got together and said, ‘Next year, it’s our senior year, we want this, let’s go get it,'” Corvallis' Kaitlin Irwin said.
Well, next year is this year.
And so far, the Corvallis girls have made good on the promise they made to themselves.
"We said pretty quickly after we went home last year, after Bozeman, that nobody talks about third place," Blue Devils coach Kasey Arceniega said Tuesday at practice while her volleyball team warmed up in the old gym at Corvallis high school. "I think it was a little bit bitter for them, which was a good thing."
It was also a bit alarming for the girls from Class A Corvallis dropped their regular season opener against Florence, a tough state-bound squad in its own right, but one that plays in Class B.
The Blue Devils knew they needed to work on a few things.
"We started out really strong, we started out really focused, but as the game got going, and the pressure got mounted, we started to lesson our (intensity)," senior Maureen Jessop explained of the opening-season loss.
Five years ago, then-middle schooler Maureen Jessop watched in Bozeman as her sister and the rest of the Corvallis volleyball team lifted the school's first ever Class A volleyball trophy.
Those things started to click in short order for Corvallis, though.
The Blue Devils didn't lose another non-tournament match the rest of the season. They swept the Southwest A (10-0 through regular-season conference play) as well as the Western A divisional tournament and entered this weekend's state tournament at 23-4 overall.
All four seniors — Irwin, Jessop, Charlotte Powell and Denali Smith — all agreed that the Blue Devils reached a peak of intensity and focus at the Missoula County Public School's (MCPS) volleyball tournament in October, just before postseason play.
There, Corvallis finished in second place, this time acting as the team that outclassed several schools playing in a higher enrollment category.
"We had this huge tournament with (Class) AA schools and we just came together to work hard," said Powell, who is second in the Western A in hitting percentage (.389), according to maxpreps.com. "We just showed up and I think it was that moment when we realized we can actually win state; we can actually do the things for each other that we’ve wanted to do."
That goal, obviously, is to win state. While that run officially started Thursday, its something this senior class in particular has dreamed of since they saw Corvallis capture its first and only state title in 2013.
"We know everybody there can play, but that’s what gets them the most pumped," coach Arceniega said. "If they treat this situation like they did at the (MCPS) with high intensity, and they’re able to handle the pressure like they did at divisionals against Libby, I think they have a really good chance of doing what they want to do.
"It's what they’ve set out do since I’ve known them, which is from when they were 10 or 11 years old."
Things started off according to plan Thursday at the Class A state tournament as Corvallis won its first-round matchup against Glendive, 25-21, 25-14, 25-9. The Blue Devils' self-belief that grew each set and has developed all season was self-evident.
Jessop led Corvallis with 12 kills and Powell added seven blocks at the net, helping the Blue Devils take the first step toward their goal of a state title. Corvallis met defending Class A champion Billings Central in a second-round matchup late Thursday, but results were not available at presstime.
For up-to-date coverage of the all-class state volleyball tournament in Bozeman, visit 406mtsports.com.