MISSOULA — Frozen Gummy Bears are Sam Clevenger's secret weapon.
The Loyola Sacred Heart senior volleyball standout enjoys them before matches.
Still, candy alone could never spur the Breakers to the kind of performance they turned in Thursday on senior night. On this occasion it was Clevenger's loud and excitable classmates, many of whom play for the football team, that helped make for a special atmosphere at the Sister Rita Mudd Activity Center.
Between the cheering, the strong serving and solid net play, Arlee didn't stand a chance. Surging Loyola posted its fourth consecutive match win in straight sets, 25-17, 25-16, 26-24.
The ultimate goal is a Breaker state berth for the first time in four years. The way they're playing lately, it just might happen.
"Coming back in that third game, being able to push and win by two at home on senior night, these girls are definitely peaking at the right time of the season," said Loyola coach Kelsey McFadden, whose team erased an 18-10 deficit in the final set.
"Most of these girls have known each other since pre-K and that relationship helps. And with us all having that goal to make it to state and do well at state, I think that's pushing us to work harder every day."
Clevenger, whose team is prepping for the all-important district meet on Nov. 1-2 in Florence, feels the Breakers have become much more cohesive as the season has worn on.
"We're having a lot more trust in each other than we did at the beginning of the season," said the senior, who collected a team-high 23 digs and shared team-high honors in kills with nine. "That third set, coming back, that happens quite a bit. We do a good job digging ourselves out of holes."
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"We struggled for a while in that last game, but our motto for the season is relentless pursuit. That's what we focused on to get the win."
Arlee was hot early, jumping to a 6-1 lead with the help of an Amily Fiddler ace. The Breakers evened the tally at 6-6 on a Sam Clevenger ace before the Scarlets went back up by five, 13-8.
Loyola turned on the afterburners at that point. Bolstered by the serving of Brooke Twite and Molly McHugh, the hosts pulled out a 25-17 win in the first set.
The Breakers dominated early in the second, building an 8-0 lead with the help of a Clevenger kill and McHugh's serving. They rolled to a 2-0 set lead but were in trouble late in the third set, trailing 24-20.
That's when the home magic happened. Sam Clevenger's tip kill evened the score at 24-24 and McHugh's ace clinched the match win.
"It was really special," Clevenger said of her home crowd. "The boys really came out and supported us and it was really cool."
Credit McFadden for putting the Breakers in position for a state run. She's the first Loyola volleyball head coach in five years to return for a second season.
"I've built a relationship with the girls," she offered. "They trust me. They know what our goal is. They know what I want to see out there. It helps."