BOZEMAN — Maybe it isn’t as easy as it looks, but the Belgrade Panthers made it look easy Thursday during the first day of the Class A volleyball tournament.
The Panthers swept Libby 25-17, 25-18, 25-13 in a second-round match at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, sending Belgrade into the undefeated semifinal. Coupled with its first-round win over Whitefish, the Panthers gave up just 83 points in six sets.
Their average margin of victory: 25-14.
“I’m just really pleased with how we came out and played both matches today,” Belgrade coach Jade Schmidt said, though she did proceed, using that critical eye that coaches always have, to detail a couple areas where her team could do better.
Bailey Christensen had 16 kills and 11 digs, and she and sister Taylor Christensen had four aces each against Libby. In the two matches, Belgrade served up 26 aces.
“We serve a lot” in practice,” Schmidt said. “I bet these girls average serving 100 balls per week and it’s clearly paid off this year.”
Now, the Panthers (28-2) get Billings Central Friday at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to the championship round. It’s a rematch of last year’s state title match, and though Belgrade has won four previous meetings with the Rams, Schmidt said there is no way her team will take Central lightly.
“Two years ago,” Schmidt said, “we had their number all season and they beat us in the third-place match at state when it mattered.”
Libby (22-6), which got 11 kills from Mehki Sykes, will place a 2 p.m. loser-out match on Friday.
Billings Central 3, Corvallis 1
Yes, Olivia Moten-Schell has had a stellar first day at the tournament.
In two Billings Central wins, the 6-foot-1 junior has 43 kills. But Rams coach Kylie Reitz, asked what got her team through to the undefeated semifinals with a four-set win over Corvallis, pointed to a trio of other players: Blayne Meyer, Taylor Bowen, and Kristina Schafer, who combined for 25 kills in the 23-25, 25-23, 25-23, 25-20 win.
“Last weekend (at the Eastern A divisional) we really struggled in rotations where Olivia wasn’t in the front row,” Reitz said. “This weekend we pulled away in those rotations. In might not show up in the box score with a ton of kills, but we had enough kills from the people that are in there when she’s not in the front row.”
This was a close match all the way. Every time you looked at the scoreboard the score seemed to be tied. Corvallis actually outhit the Rams, 49-46 in kills, and Central had 109 digs to the Blue Devils’ 105. Casey Fison of Corvallis had 30 digs, while the Rams’ Christy Cox had 26, Avery Hadley 24 and Moten-Schell 23.
It was just a matter of getting the key point at the key time that helped a team gain control.
“That team is so much like us,” said Moten-Schell, who had 25 kills. “They play kind of the same way we do and it’s nice to play teams like that. It was a really fun game to play in.”
With two wins on the day, the Rams (23-6) move into Friday’s 6 p.m. undefeated semifinal. The win also guarantees the Rams will bring a tournament trophy back with them to Billings.
Maureen Jessop had 16 kills to lead Corvallis (22-5), which will play a loser-out match at 4 p.m. Friday.
Belgrade 3, Whitefish 0
There wasn’t a whole lot Whitefish coach Addy Connelly could say, either, after the Panthers swept her team 25-15, 25-15, 25-5.
Paced by seven aces from Bailey Christensen and four each from Cassidy Catron and Delanee Hicks, the Panthers finished with 16 overall. Consider Belgrade needed just 26 kills, and it’s easy to see how big a role Whitefish’s serve-receive played in the match.
“We’ve struggled mentally all year,” Connelly said. “They beat themselves before they even stepped on the court today.”
Whitefish had just 10 kills, led by three each from Marle Bender and Payton Reisinger.
The Bulldogs (13-9) play Hardin in a loser-out match at noon.
“They’re a great group of girls, they're athletic, and when they play together we’re really a quality team,” Connelly said. “Today we didn’t put it together.”
Belgrade moved on to the final match of the night against Libby.
Libby 3, Hardin 1
Hardin’s volleyball season seemed to be wrapped up in its first match. Some good, some not-so-good.
The result was a 26-24, 20-25, 25-18, 25-12 victory for Libby, a win that put the Loggers into the second round later in the day.
For the Bulldogs, the up-and-down nature of the match was how things have gone all season.
“It’s been pretty inconsistent,” Hardin coach Tiffany Lynch said. “What happens is we get on a roll, we’re playing hard, and then we relax and let them back in. We get back on a roll and then relax. It’s just kind of this game of back-and-forth a lot of times.”
Libby’s 6-foot-3 junior, Mehki Sykes, finished with 25 kills and six blocks. Jayden Winslow added 16 kills and 18 digs, and Linsey Walker added 16 digs for the Loggers (22-5).
Nicole Green led Hardin with 15 kills and Demi Uffelman added 12.
Hardin plays a noon loser-out match on Friday. The Bulldogs (15-14) are still hungry for their first tournament trophy since the Bulldogs finished third in 2005, Lynch said.
“Tomorrow’s going to be a long day,” Lynch said. “If that’s what their goal is, then they need to dig deep and figure it out.”
Billings Central 3, Columbia Falls 1
Kylie Reitz has seen it before. So when her Billings Central volleyball team dropped its first set of the tournament, she just let it play out.
It was going to be what it was going to be.
“These past couple years that first game, man, it takes us a while to get our feet underneath us,” she said, after the Rams rebounded to beat Columbia Falls 20-25, 25-15, 25-17, 25-14. “Playing on a sport court, really bright lights, high stakes …
“And so during that first set I didn’t even call a timeout. I was like, ‘we’re going to be fine. I don’t want to say something I’m going to regret later.’ “
Once the Rams got going, they never let up. The defending state champs got 18 kills from Olivia Moten-Schell and four blocks each from Cindy Grey and Blayne Meyer.
Ryley Kehr had 13 kills for Columbia Falls. Coach Jolandie Brooks felt her team, which has just two seniors on its roster, got too passive after the first-set win.
“The second set we started tipping and giving easy roll shots, and once that started happening it gave Billings Central that confidence that they needed,” Brooks said. “I think at first they were a little intimidated by us, but once we started giving them easy stuff they started slamming it.”
Billings Central advanced to a second-round match later in the day against Corvallis.
Columbia Falls (15-8) will play Glendive at 10 a.m. Friday in a loser-out match.
Corvallis 3, Glendive 0
Tiffaney Egan could tell when it happened. The Glendive volleyball coach knew, when her team fell quickly behind in the second set of the day’s opening match, that is was also losing belief.
What confidence the Red Devils had in hanging tough with Corvallis was fading. Corvallis, meanwhile, continued to build its own self-belief and went on for a 25-21, 25-14, 25-9 victory.
Egan gathered her squad afterward and held a lengthy post-match discussion.
“Offensively, we weren’t able to execute on the outside, and that’s generally been a strength of ours,” Egan said. “I think it just kind of beat them down a little bit. They just struggled to find a solution fast enough.”
Maureen Jessop had 12 kills and Charlotte Powell seven blocks for Corvallis, which advanced to Thursday’s second round.
Meadow Torres had nine kills and 17 digs for Glendive.
The Red Devils (23-10) will play a loser-out match at 10 a.m. on Friday.
“We’re learning,” said Egan. “We’re learning.”