BOZEMAN — Billings Central most certainly didn’t want history to repeat itself. It’s a history that stretches back to last year, and it’s a history that’s been intertwined with Belgrade.
You see, last year, Belgrade dominated the Rams during the regular season. But at the Class A state volleyball tournament, Central finally found a way around the Panthers and reached the championship round on its way to a second-place finish.
This season Central was 4-0 against the Panthers heading into Friday night’s undefeated semifinal at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. The Rams made it 5-0 with a 29-27, 25-19, 25-23 win over Belgrade, moving Central into the championship for the second year in a row.
“That was a big hurdle for us last year,” Central coach Kylie Reitz said. “They’re such a great program, right, and they always push us and it just always seemed they always had the upper hand and then we got them.”
Reitz said she pointed out the parallels of the two seasons to her team and that they needed to be ready for the Panthers’ best shot.
Maybe it wasn’t Belgrade’s best, but both Reitz and Panthers coach Jade Schmidt felt it was the most-rounded effort against the Rams. And still, it wasn’t quite enough.
“I felt like the girls played hard and they were together,” Schmidt said. “We just had a few too many errors in critical situations.”
Bailey Christensen had 17 kills and Taylor Christensen had 33 digs to lead the Panthers. Belgrade dropped into Saturday morning’s third-place match, and will need to win three times to claim its first title since 2014.
Olivia Moten-Schell led three Rams into double figure kills with 12. Bailey Kufeld added 11 and Sydney Hawbaker 10.
Central hasn’t lost to a Class A team all season, and the Rams showed that if that’s going to happen, teams are going to have to outwork them. Particularly in this match, the Rams were reluctant to let any balls hit the floor.
The Rams had 129 digs, getting 34 from Avery Hadley and 22 each from Devin Nielsen and Kufeld.
“We just want to win,” said Nielsen, who also had 28 assists. “We just want to win state.”
Corvallis 3, Libby 2
Corvallis and Libby played 18 sets against each other over the last two weekends, and they still weren’t done late Friday night. Set 19 went to Corvallis, and the Blue Devils advanced to the third-place match against Belgrade with a 25-22, 17-25, 21-25, 25-13, 15-11 win.
Maureen Jessop had 14 kills, including what turned out to be the match-winner, along with 18 digs, and Casey Fuson had 19 digs. Kate Hurlburt added 39 assists and 18 digs for the Blue Devils, who played Libby three times over the course of 14 sets in last week’s Western A tournament.
“We just match up with them really well and just go back and forth,” Corvallis coach Kasey Arceniega said. “They’re a fun team to play. We always like the challenge. We’ve enjoyed playing them and we’re glad we came out on top.”
While the win guarantees at least a third-place trophy, the Blue Devils, who won two matches on Friday, aren’t ready to settle.
“Our goal was to make it to Saturday, and that’s happened,” Arceniega said. “So, of course, once you reach a goal you set another one. So our next goal is to make it to that championship match.”
Libby, playing its second five-setter of the day, finished fourth. The Loggers were led by 20 kills from Mehki Sykes and 14 kills from Brooklyn Rainer.
Libby 3, Whitefish 2
Libby proved to be a tough out in loser-out action, rallying from a two-set deficit to knock out Whitefish.
Whitefish seemed to have things in hand after opening the match with 25-18, 25-13 wins, but Libby turned things around by winning the next three sets 25-16, 25-19 and 15-5.
The Loggers scored the first nine points of the decisive fifth set.
Corvallis 3, Lewistown 0
Corvallis, the 2015 Class A state tournament runner up, stayed in the hunt for another trophy with a sweep of Lewistown.
With the 25-21, 25-22, 25-15 win, the Blue Devils advanced.
Lewistown saw its season end.
Corvallis had 11 blocks, though the Blue Devils allowed Lewistown 30 kills. Charlotte Powell had five blocks for Corvallis and Hannah Hutchison led in kills with 12.
Anna Zimmer led Lewistown with 13 kills and Bailey Collins contributed 7 digs.
Whitefish 3, Glendive 2
Whitefish and Glendive traded jabs, but it was the Bulldogs that stayed alive.
Whitefish won 25-22, 14-25, 25-22, 20-25, 15-12.
The fifth set was tied 12-12 until a Glendive serving error gave Whitefish the lead. The Bulldogs scored the next two points to close out the match.
Cailyn Ross had 24 of Whitefish’s 54 kills. She also had six blocks. Serena Hemmingson made 27 digs and Becca Catina and Lauren Schulz combined for 45 assists.
Karsen Murphy had 13 kills and Adalie Reinhart 10 for Glendive. Meadow Torres and Thea Robson both had 24 digs for Glendive, which finished with 110. Glendive also had 12 aces, four by Bailey Pearcy.
Lewistown 3, Stevensville 0
Lewistown held off Stevensville 25-23, 25-21, 28-26 in a loser-out match.
Stevensville led 24-23 in the third set with hopes to stay alive in the tournament but couldn’t hold on and was eliminated.
Anna Zimmer recorded 15 kills and Bailey Collins had 14 digs to lead the Golden Eagles, who advanced to play Corvallis. Becca Bawden had 30 assists.
Angel Richards led Stevensville with seven kills.