BOZEMAN — Paige Bartsch was pacing, pacing, pacing behind the Helena Capital bench. She didn’t want to miss out on what could be a historic moment for the Bruins.
A turned ankle in the third set of Saturday’s Class AA state championship volleyball match against Bozeman had limited her playing time, and the 6-foot-4 sophomore was just itching to get back in. An injury kept her out of last season’s state tournament, and she didn’t want to miss this chance, either.
Late in the fourth set, Capital coach Rebecca Cleveland summoned Bartsch, one of the Bruins’ key players. In a few moments, despite her obviously not at 100 percent, Bartsch provided a key block, and her kill a bit later moved Capital to championship point.
Sarah Ashley got that point, sending the ball down the left sideline and Capital’s side into delirium. The Bruins’ 23-25, 25-19, 25-22, 27-25 win over the Hawks at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse put them back on top of Class AA for the first time since 2002.
“That was the year I was born, I was, like, six months then,” Ashley said with a laugh. “We’re so proud to have been that team that ended that drought. We just wanted to be that team that brought it back home. It feels so good to be able to do that.”
Ashley had a match-high 17 kills and Dani Bartsch, Paige’s twin, had 12 as the Bruins won their third title overall (1998). Pagie Bartsch, despite missing nearly a full set with a right-ankle injury, had seven blocks, and Ashley and Dani Bartsch finished with 14 and 13 digs. Audrey Hofer had 44 assists.
Paige Bartsch’s injury was obviously worrisome to the Bruins, who led 19-10 in the third set when she fell to the floor and limped off to the bench. Bozeman scored 10 of the next 12 points, but Capital regained its footing to close the set out.
Bartsch returned at the beginning of the fourth set — a move Cleveland said she made to signal the team that Paige was available if needed — and promptly got a block, shouting, “Let’s go!” But Cleveland soon after took Bartsch out, leaving her to spend all those anxious moments patrolling the sideline before returning for the final points.
“It was intense, it was really hard not to be able to play,” Paige said. “But I was glad my teammates were out there, and Nicole (Ames) did a great job going in when she needed to go in and did really well. I had full trust in my team.”
Mara Lynch had 14 kills and Sasha Hathaway 11 to lead Bozeman (25-9), which was playing in its first title match since winning it all in 2015.
Though she had a different lineup on the floor at times, Cleveland felt even before that fourth set started that things would turn out OK for the Bruins (28-2).
“I felt like the tempo and the level of play on those first points, regardless of how it went throughout that fourth set we were going to get it,” said Cleveland, who completed her third season as Capital’s coach. “It’s just, you know, in your bones. It was exciting.”
And tiring. Hofer put her final set from pin to pin, where the right-handed Ashley put the ball between the hands of a Bozeman defender and to the floor.
"It was crazy," Ashley said. "Exhaustion just hit me, because I knew it was over."
Bozeman 3, Billings West 0
The Hawks reached the championship match by sweeping Billings West 25-16, 25-23, 25-23 in the morning’s third-place match.
Mara Lynch had 17 kills and Sasha Hathaway 14 for Bozeman.
West was led by Shauna Stene, who had eight kills and seven blocks. For the Golden Bears (20-12), the trophy was their first for the program since they finished third in 2011.
“It’s sad, because you wanted to do better, but I told the kids they came such a long way this year,” said coach Monica Grimsrud, in her first full season at West. “They wanted to be playing on Saturday and we made it here. There’s only three teams that get to play on Saturdays and I’m really proud to be one of those teams.”