When it comes to choosing the 2019 IR All-Area volleyball Player of the Year, it wasn't easy, especially with all the quality candidates. In fact, you might say it was as hard as beating Helena Capital this past season.
Although, since the now two-time defending state champs never lost in 2019, that's not really an apt comparison, because there is indeed a 2019 Player of the Year and in the Independent Record coverage area, it was Paige Bartsch.
The truth is that it would be hard to argue with Bartsch, Sarah Ashley or Audrey Hofer, but, Bartsch gets the edge in part because of her ability to dominate two ways.
Ashley, who earned All-State honors again this season and was the All-Area Player of the Year in 2017, is Capital's all-time leader in kills with 1,119.
She was also clutch in several big matches including each regular-season crosstown matchup with Helena High and throughout the state tournament, including 14 kills in the semifinals.
Hofer was another logical candidate. The Bruins setter was stellar all season long, at times, making dazzling assists out of balls that lesser players couldn't handle.
Her game is both smooth and spectacular and at the state tournament, she averaged 30.5 assists per match and also added four blocks in the title match. She was also the 2018 Montana Gatorade Player of the Year.
Yet, as worthy as both Hofer and Ashley are, Bartsch nudged them out by the slimmest of margins.
The 6-foot-3 middle blocker that is destined for Boise State is a multi-faceted threat as she showed at state. During wins against Bozeman, CMR and Helena High, she averaged 13 kills and five blocks per match. She also had four aces in the opening match, which shouldn't be a surprise after she registered 90 aces during the season. That was on top of 86 blocks, 280 kills and 127 digs.
Bartsch, Ashley and Hofer each made the All-Area First Team — something that wasn't easy to do — seeing as six of the seven selections were named All-State.
Joining Paige Bartsch on the team is her sister Dani Bartsch, who also earned All-State honors.
While Capital got four spots on the First Team, Helena High, the Class AA runner-up, had three as All-State standouts Liz Heuiser and Emily Feller earned the recognition along with Haydin Henschel.
The All-Area Second Team is also stacked with talent and is highlighted by a pair of All-State players from Townsend in Taylor Noyes and Peyton Vogl. They were each critical cogs in the Bulldogs run to the Class B state tournament.
Brooke Ark, Caroline Bullock and Abby Marcille also made it after helping the Bengals to a second-place trophy at state. Capital also had Madi Davis and Kennedy Pocha earn Second-Team honors. The Bruins Mashayla O'Malley was named as an honorable mention.
Here is the team in its entirety with postseason honors and stats:
IR All-Area Volleyball First Team
Paige Bartsch, Capital - Junior, 6-3 middle blocker
First team All-State, 2-time All-Stater; 2019 Western AA Player of the Year 280 kills (.358 hitting %), 90 aces, 86 blocks, 127 digs; Helped undefeated Bruins to second straight AA championship
Sarah Ashley, Capital - Senior, 5-11 outside hitter
First team All-State, 3-time All-Stater; 298 kills, 55 aces, 217 digs; 1119 career kills; Helped undefeated Bruins to second straight AA championships; 2017 IR Player of the Year
Audrey Hofer, Capital - Junior, 5-8 setter
First team All-State, 2-time All-Stater; 899 assists, 35 aces (92.4%), 203 digs; Helped undefeated Bruins to two second straight AA championships; 2018 IR Player of the Year
Elizabeth Heuiser, Helena - Junior, 6-0 middle blocker
First team All-State; 364 kills (.317 hitting %), 97 blocks, 183 digs; Helped Bengals to State runner-up finish
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Dani Bartsch, Capital - Junior, 6-1 outside hitter
First team All-State; 277 kills (.293 hitting %), 56 aces, 191 digs; Helped undefeated Bruins to second straight AA championship
Emily Feller, Helena - Senior, 5-9 setter
First team All-State, 2-time All-Stater; 809 assists, 61 aces, 197 digs; 2276 career assists; Helped Bengals to State runner-up finish
Haydin Henschel, Helena - Senior, 5-6 Libero
Second team All-Conference; 308 digs, 1.89 passing average; Helped Bengals to State runner-up finish
IR All-Area Volleyball Second Team
Taylor Noyes, Townsend - Senior, 5-8 setter
Class B All-State; 964 assists, 75 aces, 239 digs; School record 1635 career assists; Helped Lady Bulldogs (17-7) to 5B championship, third-place at Southern Divisionals
Peyton Vogl, Townsend - Senior, 6-0 middle blocker
Class B All-State; 456 kills, 117 blocks, 339 digs; 679 career kills; Helped Lady Bulldogs (17-7) to 5B championship, third-place at Southern Divisionals
Abby Marcille, Helena - Senior, 5-11 outside hitter
Second team All-Conference; 207 kills; Helped Bengals to State runner-up finish
Brooke Ark, Helena - Junior, 5-6 defensive specialist
Honorable Mention All-State; 63 aces, 207 digs, 1.69 passing average; Helped Bengals to State runner-up
Madi Davis, Capital - Senior, 5-8 middle blocker
Honorable Mention All-Conference; 56 blocks; Helped undefeated Bruins to second straight State championship
Caroline Bullock, Helena - Senior, 6-0 middle blocker
Honorable Mention All-Conference; 150 kills, 56 blocks; Helped Bengals to State runner-up finish
Kennedy Pocha, Capital - Sophomore, 5-5 Libero
137 digs, 339 service receptions; Helped undefeated Bruins to second straight State championship
Mashayla O’Malley, CHS
Curt Synness contributed to this article