BOZEMAN – The Billings Central Rams weren’t building something brick by brick as much as tearing something down.
The Rams had lost four times to Belgrade this season, but each time, Central coach Kylie Reitz said, they felt they were chipping away at the Panthers.
That last brick was toppled Friday night – or close to the last brick – as the Rams swept Belgrade 25-23, 28-26, 26-24 in the undefeated semifinal of the Class A state volleyball tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Central (24-6) returns to the championship round on Saturday to defend the title they earned last season.
“Yeah, we were 0-4 (against Belgrade), but everyone got better,” Reitz said as her team continued to celebrate its win. “Every game, I was like, OK we got closer. I can think of a few points here and there where if we get those points that game changes.
“And if that game changes, maybe the next one changes. I believe that and I hope because of that they believe that. I have such a special group, so there’s no reason not to believe in them.”
Defensive specialist Christy Cox said the team senses their coach’s belief, and that Reitz pounds into them to be mentally tough for just such occasions.
“We really worked hard at practice these past couple weeks and we knew that it was our time to beat them,” Cox said. “We had lost in the previous games against them and it’s been frustrating. It just feels really good right now.”
Central trailed 24-20 in the third set, and the Panthers, who had yet to lose to a Class A team, appeared poised to get back into the match. But Cox served it out the rest of the way, and Olivia Moten-Schell ended things with a block, sending the Rams into celebration mode.
“I’m shaking,” said Central libero Avery Hadley, who had 30 digs. “Just getting beat by them all season … when it counts, we show up. They’re a great team and I wish them the best, but it feels really good right now to be in this position we are in.”
Of course, depending on what happens Saturday morning in the third-place match between Belgrade and Corvallis, the Rams and Panthers (28-3) could meet again. And should that be the case, Reitz has a warning for her team, even though whomever the Rams face will have to win out twice to take the title away from Central. Reitz knows how close this latest match really was, and Belgrade, in particular, will be looking to stack those bricks again.
“The girls are excited and they should be, right, that’s a big win for them. But I told them this means nothing if we don’t take care of business tomorrow,” Reitz said. “I’ve been on a team that’s come back and won twice in a championship, so I certainly know that it’s 100 percent possible. So we have to make sure we are bringing it again tomorrow.”
Moten-Schell finished with 16 kills and 14 digs, and Sierra Schuster had 28 assists and 20 digs. Cindy Gray contributed six blocks and Blayne Meyer four.
Bailey Christensen led Belgrade with 16 kills and 15 digs. Jaiden Blakely had 29 assist, and Taylor Christensen led with 20 digs.
Corvallis 3, Libby 0
Prior to the start of the season, Corvallis coach Kasey Arceniega told her players to pick a spirit animal to represent each of them. Friday, at lunch, Arceniega had her players draw pictures of their spirit animals … in outer space.
“Your spirit animals are aligning the stars for us,” Arceniega told them.
It worked, apparently. The Blue Devils, in their second win of the day, swept Libby in the fourth-place match 25-22, 25-18, 25-21, sending Corvallis into Saturday morning’s third-place match against Belgrade.
Maureen Jessop had 11 kills and the Blue Devils (26-5) served 10 aces to keep their season alive. Interestingly, we’re a year removed from last season but the same three teams are left standing on Saturday.
Will the stars remain in alignment for the Blue Devils? Corvallis and Belgrade met at the Blocktoberfest tournament in Butte earlier this season with the Panthers coming out on top.
“They’re just incredibly consistent,” Arceniega said. “I think we’re a dynamic team, I think we’re aggressive, but it’s going to be a challenge matching their consistency. We’re hoping to do that tomorrow and stay aggressive at the same time.”
Jayden Winslow had 13 kills and Alli Collins had 32 assists for Libby, which finished the season at 23-7. The Loggers also finished fourth last season.
Corvallis 3, Hardin 0
Maureen Jessop had 19 kills and 21 digs to help Corvallis sweep Hardin 26-24, 25-15, 31-29 in a loser-out match.
Hardin had three set points in the third set and Corvallis two before the Blue Devils finally closed things out.
Hannah Martin added 46 assists and Casey Fison 29 digs for the Blue Devils (25-5) who advanced to the fourth-place match against Libby.
Mariah Simmons had 10 kills for Hardin. Natalie Edgar added 31 assists and 21 digs for the Bulldogs (16-15).
Libby 3, Columbia Falls 2
Libby had two six-point runs in the decisive fifth set and beat Columbia Falls to advance to the fourth-place match.
After winning the fourth set, the Loggers fell behind 3-0 in the fifth. But a 6-0 run put them ahead, and another 6-0 run gave them an 11-5 cushion in their 24-26, 26-24, 15-25, 25-18, 15-9 victory.
Mehki Sykes had 25 kills and Jayden Winslow 20 kills and 24 digs for Libby (23-6), which is one win away from bettering last season’s fourth-place finish. Emma Gruber had 33 digs and Alli Collins added 53 assists.
Columbia Falls finished the season 16-9. The Wildkats were led by Kiera Brown’s 11 kills and Hannah Schweikert’s 20 digs.
Hardin 3, Whitefish 1
Mariah Simmons had 14 kills and Katie Murdock had 32 digs as Hardin stayed alive with a 22-25, 27-25, 25-19, 25-13 loser-out victory over Whitefish.
Jenna Lind added 10 kills and Natalie Edgar 39 assists for Hardin (16-14). The Bulldogs will play Corvallis in another loser-out match.
Simmons also had five aces.
Whitefish ended its season at 13-10. Mariah Bender led the team with 14 kills and six blocks, and Lauren Schulz had 24 assists and 23 digs. Jasmine Matern finished with 34 digs.
Columbia Falls 3, Glendive 2
Lauren Falkner put down the final kill, and Columbia Falls moved on with a five-set loser-out win over Glendive.
Columbia Falls prevailed 27-25, 14-25, 25-18, 22-25, 15-13 in a match that went back and forth throughout the duration.
Ryley Kehr finished with 20 kills and five blocks for Columbia Falls (16-8), which advanced to play Libby in another loser-out match. Hannah Schweikert had 34 assists and Angellica Street 19 digs.
Glendive (24-11) was led by 20 kills from Karsen Murphy. Bailey Pearcy had 53 assists and Thea Robson had 29 digs. Meadow Torres finished with 15 kills and 22 digs.