Class AA volleyball

A fish-eye view of Billings Senior vs. Capital High match at the Class AA state tournament Saturday morning at the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman.

DEAN HENDRICKSON, for 406mtsports.com

BOZEMAN -- Missoula Sentinel successfully defended its AA championship at the all-class state volleyball tournament on Saturday, sweeping Billings Senior in the finals 25-13, 25-18, 25-22. Prior to the chipper, Capital High settled for third-place, dropping a 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 25-18 decision to the Broncs in Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, collecting their first State trophy in 15 years.

Relying like they do on so many young players, Capital may have opened some eyes at State. There was one pair of eyes, though, that didn’t need opening.

Bruins coach Rebecca Cleveland foresaw a top three finish before the season even began. And third, to be exact, is where the Bruins finished up after losing to Billings 25-21, 25-19, 23-25, 25-18.

“Knowing a lot of them outside of school -- I’m a teacher at a middle school and I’ve taught quite a few of them -- so I knew the skill they had coming into the program,” Cleveland said after her team accepted the team trophy. “I know that they are definitely team players and are all about the team and completely unselfish.”

Sophomore Sarah Ashley led the Bruins with 15 kills, and freshman Dani Bartsch had five blocks, eight kills and 16 digs. Audrey Hofer, another freshman, had 16 assists and senior Celina Sanchez added 15. Senior Katie Culver had a team-high 18 digs.

“It’s a great feeling to be bringing a trophy back to Capital High. I feel that we actually peaked at the right time, we peaked at State, which is every coach’s dream,” said Cleveland, whose Western Conference runner-up spikers finished at 21-8. “Our senior leadership will be missed. These ladies are a class act and added so much value to our program, and especially the outcome of the season.”

Raegan Steiner had 22 kills and Kola Bad Bear five blocks for the Broncs. Sam Bonenberger contributed 24 assists and 11 digs, while Jordan Gilcrist led with 18 digs.

Sentinel 3, Senior 0

Kylie Frohlich insisted the Missoula Spartans volleyball team knew nothing was given or handed out. No, things had to be earned.

Though others would pronounce the Spartans as favorites to repeat and back up their 2016 championship because of a large contingent of returners, the players took none of that to heart.

“We weren’t expecting anything, we just wanted to fight each game with the people that we have,” Frohlich said, shortly after the Spartans, did, indeed, repeat as Class AA champions with a sweep of Senior. “We did exactly what we wanted to do and we accomplished our goal of just one team, one dream.”

Sentinel topped Senior in the title match for the second season in a row, and, for many of these Spartans, it was their third consecutive trip to the championship. Sentinel’s roster is filled with 11 seniors, and several were on the team when it fell to Bozeman in the 2015 championship match.

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That turned out to be just the start of what’s been a special run for this group.

“We were so excited and we were ready to take on the next few years,” Elsa Godwin, a senior who had the title-clinching kill on Saturday, recalled. “Just determination and hard work has really brought us here.”

Godwin finished with 11 kills and Jordyn Schweyen had 29 assists and five blocks. Sarina Moreno had 22 digs, part of an effort that helped limit Senior to just 17 kills.

Raegan Steiner and Kola Bad Bear had five kills to lead Senior. The Broncs, who beat Capital earlier in the day in the third-place match, entered the state tournament unbeaten and finished the season 32-2, with both losses to Sentinel.

Spartan coach Erin Keffeler said goodbye to her seniors on this note, stating “No regrets, there it is … You did it all.”

-- Curt Synness of 406mtsports.com contributed to this story

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