MISSOULA — Decked out in white boots and a pink skirt, Erin Keffeler tried to spice things up by dressing like a Spice Girl Thursday.
The Missoula Sentinel coach wasn't the only one helping to make her team's volleyball match against Missoula Hellgate extra festive on Halloween. Keffeler's staff followed her lead in dressing like Spice Girls and Hellgate's staff dressed like a rainbow, with coach Matty Hancock representing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, adorned with golden shirt decorations.
The scene seemed to inspire the upset-minded Knights early as they built a 15-8 lead in the first set. Then Sentinel seized control behind the serving of Sheridan Schweyen and the Spartans swept to a home victory on senior night, 25-22, 29-27, 25-18.
With the win, Sentinel secured city bragging rights.
"It's a big deal any time actually because every crosstown match, you never know what's going to happen," said Keffeler, who was going for a "Baby Spice" look with her costume.
Keffeler's fun approach to her team's final regular-season match may have helped the Spartans find their way out of a funk. Now Sentinel (8-6) can go into Thursday's Western AA home playoff match with a head of steam and fresh perspective.
"It was so much fun," said Schweyen, who collected a match-high five aces and shared match-high honors in kills with teammate Sierra Dennison, each flooring 12. "We lost the last couple of matches and it's been pretty rough. We kept it together this whole match and played as a team."
Schweyen stepped to the service line with her team trailing 17-12 in the first set and made quite the impressive run. Her aces and big kills from the likes of seniors Maggie Weida and Emily Brinkman forced Hancock to take two timeouts.
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Sentinel managed to build a 23-17 lead before Hellgate finally stopped the Schweyen service string. The Knights whittled their deficit to 24-22 before a service error gave the hosts the set win.
"I told them it's time to go to work, it's up to them," Keffeler said in summing up her words of inspiration during a timeout. "They have to make it happen. And they did. They turned it around. Squash any doubt, like there's no reason to doubt. Squash it and play on."
The second set was even more thrilling than the first. Hellgate was in the driver's seat with a 23-20 lead before consecutive kills by Schweyen tightened up the score. Paige Sawyer's ace knotted it up at 23-23 and from there it was back-and-forth until Weida's tip kill and a block by Alexis Umland gave Sentinel the set win.
The Spartans took control early in the third set and held off Hellgate for the match win. Schweyen ended the night with a kill.
Now comes nervous time for the Spartans and Knights. The goal is a state berth and it's going to take focus next week.
"They have to scrap things out and stay together and not ride that emotional roller coaster of highs and lows," said Keffeler, who was not sure of next Thursday's opponent as of press time. "We need to keep our emotions level and stick together.
"We have had a couple injuries, on Tuesday we didn't have Challis (Westwater) and Alexis (Umland) in our loss to Butte. But we have eight seniors, a lot of talent and they're playing well. I just want them to get the state berth with that match next week, then once we get there, leave it all on the floor."