BOZEMAN - All season long, Helena Capital has avoided talking about and thinking about an undefeated season. But now, after beating CMR to clinch a return trip to the Class AA state title match, the Bruins are just one win away.
"It's crazy," Helena Capital hitter Sarah Ashley said. "It just gives us more motivation. Now, it's one win away, so we have to get it done now."
Capital is one win away from a second consecutive state championship and an undefeated season but in the early going Friday inside the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, CMR, which entered with just one loss, was looking to play spoiler.
The Rustlers controlled the first set and won 25-19, taking a 1-0 lead in the match. But the Bruins didn't panic and they played their style of volleyball over the next three sets as Ashley and the Bartsch twins, Paige and Dani, dominated, combining for 46 kills as Capital swept the last three sets 25-14, 25-15 and 25-14 to take the match 3-1.
"It feels amazing," Dani Bartsch said. "I had been looking forward to playing CMR for a long time. We figured we would play them eventually and I'm so glad our team came together and came out on top."
Of course, it's never easy to beat a team with a player like Allie Olsen, who was solid for the Rustlers with 16 kills, five blocks and two aces. But the 6-foot-4 University of Utah signee wasn't enough to overcome Capital's trio.
"It was different for sure," Dani Bartsch said of playing against Olsen. "She gets her hands on a lot of balls. It's awesome to play against someone that is as good as Paige (Bartsch)."
Dani Bartsch finished with a match-high 19 kills to go along with 13 digs. Paige Bartsch was also stellar, recording 13 kills, six blocks and four aces, while Ashley added 13 kills and three aces.
For her part, Olsen was outstanding for the Rustlers in defeat, notching 16 kills, five blocks and two aces.
The Bruins will now await the winner of the 10 a.m. match which will feature CMR and the winner of Bozeman and Helena High. The Class AA title match will start at 12 p.m.
Helena High 3, Bozeman 2
After falling behind 2-0 to Billings West in loser-out action earlier Friday, the idea that Helena High would be guaranteed to take home hardware from the Class AA state tournament might have seemed far-fetched.
Unless of course, you asked the Bengals and hitter Caroline Bullock.
"When I woke up, I knew today was going to be a good day," Bullock said. "This is our day and our moment and I thought we capitalized on the energy we built in the first two matches against West and Butte."
"I think we are definitely the most tired team," she added. "But we are also the happiest."
Bullock impacted the match, which Helena High won over Bozeman by the scores of 16-25, 25-21, 25-21 and 25-17, with her 12 kills, including the final point, which clinched Helena's spot in the semifinals and at the very least a third-place trophy.
"It's invigorating," Bullock said. "It takes me back to all the sprints that we have done and all the work we put in to help us get where we are. We are excited to play CMR and hopefully, we will play Helena Capital."
In addition to Bullock's strong showing, the Bengals got a monster performance from Liz Heusier who finished with 18 kills, eight blocks and three aces. Emily Feller also contributed with three acs and 38 assists.
"What a run today," Helena High head coach Lindsey Day said. "It was a lot of ups and downs but for the girls to come back the way they did, I am just so incredibly proud of them. I knew they had it in them and they have all worked so hard, they deserve this."
Bozeman was led by Jo Jo Radick who managed 14 kills. Emma Fox also had 27 assists for the Hawks, who finished fourth after taking second in 2018.
Helena High 3, Billings West 2
When Helena High found itself down 2-0 to Billings West in loser-out action at the Class AA state tournament Friday, the Bengals didn't panic.
Because they knew from experience a 2-0 comeback is possible. After all, Billings Senior rallied from 2-0 to beat Helena Thursday night.
"It definitely helped," Helena High's Elizabeth Heuiser said of seeing the Broncs rally against the Bengals Thursday. "We have done it before and Senior did it to us yesterday, so we knew it was possible."
Yet, just because it's possible, doesn't mean it will happen.
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However, in the third set, the Bengals dug their way out of a hole and won the third set, before sweeping the last two to win by the scores of 25-27, 20-25, 25-22, 25-16 and 15-9.
"We had a lot of energy," Heuiser said. "And that helped. We are feeling pretty good right now."
Heuiser should be feeling good. She notched 16 kills in the win, as well as six blocks. Emily Feller was also big time, adding 39 assists and five blocks.
Billings West got 10 kills from Kaitlin Grossman and 4.5 blocks from Shauna Stene in the loss.
Bozeman 3, Billings Senior 1
Last year, the Bozeman Hawks lost a match on the first day of the state tournament but still played their way into the Class AA state championship and after a second win Friday, it feels like deja vu.
After defeating Missoula Sentinel in the first loser-out match Friday morning, the Hawks knocked off Billings Senior by the same 3-1 margin to advance to the fourth-place match Friday night.
That will start at 8 p.m. The loser will get fourth, while the winner will clinch a top-three finish in addition to still being alive for the state title.
In order to get to that match, the Hawks defeated the Broncs by the scores of 25-20, 25-17, 23-25 and 25-18.
Sasha Hathaway had another strong outing for the Hawks with 13 kills and seven aces. Jo Jo Radick added 12 of her own to go along with two aces. Emma Fox also added 38 assists.
Olivia LaBeau led the way for Billings Senior with eight kills and three aces.
Bozeman will play the winner of Helena and Billings West.
Helena High 3, Butte High 0
In their first round match of the Class AA state volleyball tournament, the Helena High Bengals jumped out a 2-0 lead against Billings Senior.
Only the Bengals weren't able to seal the deal and wound up falling to Broncs 3-2. But Friday, when Helena High got in a similar spot against Butte High in loser-out action, there were no such problems.
This time around, Helena was able to complete the sweep, eliminating the Bulldogs after a 3-0 win by the scores of 25-22, 25-19 and 25-21.
Liz Heuiser had a standout performance for the Bengals, registering 16 kills and six blocks. Emily Feller added 31 assists, as well as an ace. Haydin Henschel added 16 digs.
Brooke McGrath had eight kills to pace the Bulldogs. Trisha Ericson also contributed with 12 digs and an ace.
The Bengals will be back in action at 4 p.m against Billings West.
Bozeman 3, Missoula Sentinel 1
The second day of the Class AA state tournament is all about survival, especially in the early loser-out action and Friday, the first team to survive was Bozeman.
The Hawks took on Missoula Sentinel in a win-or-go-home matchup and the Class AA runner-up from 2018 earned themselves another match with a 3-1 win by the scores 25-12, 19-25, 26-24 and 25-23.
Sasha Hathaway was stellar for the Hawks as she notched team highs in kills and aces with 19 and five respectively. Kamryn Larson also managed 12 kills.
Jo Jo Radick contributed with 11 kills and two aces as well for the Hawks who got 50 assists from Emma Fox. The senior also notched an ace on match point.
Sheridan Schweyen led Missoula Sentinel with nine kills. Sierra Dennison also managed five blocks.
Bozeman will play at 2 p.m. against Billings Senior; Missoula Sentinel has been eliminated.