BOZEMAN – It was semifinal Friday night inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Everyone knew Huntley Project would be there. The Lady Red Devils are the defending champs and owners of a 65-match win streak. The surprise on semifinal Friday was that they had Yellowstone County company from Billings West and Billings Central.”
The Golden Bears were still on Cloud Nine after Thursday’s 5-set win over No. 2 Helena. Their reward? No. 1 Helena Capital. West hung tough early.
Kaitlin Grossman gets the clean block as the Bears even it up. But then the Bruins went on a run. Dani Bartsch with the tip on game point, Capital takes a 1-0 lead. Sister Paige Bartsch came alive in the second. She starts it with a cross court kill off the block that finds the floor. Then Paige at the net, pretty tough to get it over the 6’4″ sophomore. Everything seemingly went right for Capital tonight. Sarah Ashley just trying to get this one over, she finds the empty spot on the left side! Then it’s back to Dani. She’s pretty good at this tip thing. The Bruins get the sweep and are the favorites heading into tomorrow.
They say it’s tough to beat a team three times in a row. Belgrade had done one better, four wins over Central this year coming into tonight, thanks to plays like these. The dig and the kill inside the line from Bailey Christensen. But just like last night, Central was best in comeback mode. Olivia Moten-Schell off the back line. Then on game point, guess who at the net? Blayne Meyer! Another unbelievable block to give the Rams a 25-23 win. Back comes Belgrade to start to the second. Christensen is so lethal from anywhere. This time the back row, and the Panthers up 16-9. The Rams respond. Cindy Gray looping kill, hits the line! Central wins game two 28-26. Then they were down 24-20 in game three, but after saving three set points, Sierra Schuster wins the net battle and we’re all tied up! Now on match point, watch Moten-Schell, swats it back with the left, Belgrade can’t recover, and that’s it! The Rams celebrated like they won state and that’s because it makes them a huge favorite to do so. The reason why, the potential tournament MVP in their star junior.
Central head coach Kylie Reitz could hardly come up with words to explain what Moten-Schell means to this Rams team.
“I don’t think I tell her enough how amazing she is. In moments like this, when the lights are the brightest, is when it becomes the clearest just how special she is. We asked a lot of her last year, and then I added in, she has to serve now, she has to play defense, she has to pass, and she’s taken it all in stride – continues to produce in the front row the way I know she’s capable of. It’s pretty special when you have a kid that can do that.”
The Rams will defend their title tomorrow, will the Red Devils? They took on Florence and big hitter Sarah Hopcroft, one of Class B’s best delivers early. However, Huntley Project has lots of weapons. Exampla A is Alana Graves, placed perfectly cross court for the kill. How about senior Josie Peterson? She goes over the block and off the dig for the point. Red Devils win game one. To game two, and more names. Mollee Krum way up, way down and she beats the defense. Then on game point they go outside to Amanda Cranford who hammers one off the block. The Red Devils were cruising along and then Emily Poole got in the act, too. On match point, she goes off the block and down. Since losing the opening set yesterday, Huntley Project has won nine straight and taken a stranglehold on Class B.
Huntley Project outside hitter Alana Graves said the tournament-opening loss gave them the kick they needed to get better.
“That was definitely a wake-up call, and we knew what we needed to do. We were all rattled the first game coming out, and we knew we had to fix that.”
Head coach Iona Stookey agreed with Graves.
“I don’t want to say we weren’t ready, but we weren’t totally prepared, maybe. And then after that first set, I just said, ‘We’re better than that,’ and then it was like, yeah. Something happened, and we just started rolling.”
The Red Devils go for 67 straight and their 11th state title Saturday afternoon in Bozeman.