MISSOULA — In many ways, Missoula Hellgate and Helena High are quite similar.
Both schools are coming off state volleyball tournament appearances from a season ago, and both squads graduated a multitude of seniors — Hellgate nine, Helena seven — and are now building with younger squads.
When the two clashed on the court, the Bengals got the best of the Knights on Thursday evening with a clean sweep, 25-11, 25-11, 25-13, to open Western AA conference play with a win while also improving to 3-0 on the season.
"Today was good. I liked our momentum and our girls served really tough," Helena coach Lindsey Day said. "That made a big difference in the match and they just came ready to play."
Helena made life difficult for Hellgate right from the get-go, jumping to a 10-2 lead in the first set. However, in the second set, Hellgate came alive, and went back-and-forth with the Bengals to a 9-9 tie.
But the Bengals broke it open from there, scoring 10 straight to put the second set away and stealing any momentum the Knights had gained.
"When it was 9-9, we kind of lost a little momentum there," Day said. "We talked about just getting the momentum back and the girls did a good job of doing that and getting back there and serving tough and making a run."
Hellgate stayed close with Helena in the third set. But after leading 12-10, Helena scored eight straight to put the match on ice down the stretch.
Helena junior Elizabeth Heuiser finished with eight kills while senior Abby Marcille added six. Senior Emily Feller added 17 assists while junior Brooke Ark served six aces and senior Caroline Bullock tallied four blocks.
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"I think our chemistry just clicked this match," said Feller who is one of the team's returning varsity vets from last season. "We're a young team but we're all friends so the chemistry is just there and we all make each other feel more comfortable so that everyone can just pound the ball. We just wanted to compete, have fun and do our best."
Hellgate sophomore Quincy Frohlich had seven kills for the Knights (0-2, 0-1). Sophomore Lydia Barrow had 13 assists as well.
Hellgate made the state tournament for the first time since 2015 last season. But after graduating so much talent, head coach Matty Hancock knows that this season is about growth and getting so many of the new players used to the varsity pace.
Specifically, he pointed to the play of Barrow, who is also new to the varsity level.
"Lydia Barrow is setting all the way around and she's just a hard worker," Hancock said. "Just keeping her focused on the game and not worrying about those little mistakes, but she amazes me every game and I think its contagious with how hard she is working."
Hancock said he did like Hellgate's outside hitting in the match. He feels confident in the team's ability to block and said defensively they can make strides and likes where they are headed in that category.
For them, its all about keeping the Knights mentally in the game, and allowing them to move on from mistakes and points that don't go their way.
"(Helena is) a great serving team and we just kind of fell short on that mental aspect," Hancock said. "Volleyball is a game of mistakes so right now we're just going to focus on what was working for us and just capitalize on that and keep that energy."