Billings just might be the setter’s capital of the state this volleyball season. With Senior, Skyview, West and Central all employing a 6-2 offense – an offense that requires two setters – the city has plenty to go around.
Running a 6-2 (which stands for six attackers, two setters) isn’t usually a coach’s first choice. It’s a decision made of need when a team has a – um, shall we say, height-challenged -- setter who wouldn’t be a defensive presence when rotated into the front row. Thus, when it’s the setter’s turn to move to the front, she’s replaced by a taller hitter, while a back row player is replaced by another setter.
Skyview, though, is running it’s 6-2 with a twist. Coach Vicki Carle is adding setting duties to the repertoires of 5-foot-10 senior Hailey Copinga and 6-0 junior Molly Little, both of whom were middle blockers last season. It’s definitely an out-of-the-box way to go, a route in which Carle gives credit to assistant coach Bridget Paddock for the idea.
“I have fantastic assistants and we are always talking about what we can do,” Carle said. “How do we make our program better? I may be an old dog, but I’m not afraid of trying new tricks. We just looked at our situation and our kids and we felt this was our best option. We’ll continue to work through it and we’ll certainly have some growing pains.”
Growing pains. All four coaches used that phrase, or some variation of it, to describe their upcoming seasons. For West coach Kelly Deming, who is utilizing junior Julia Nielsen and senior Mikayla Bloyder, both of whom are 5-4 and have yet to see any varsity action in their careers, the expression was “a huge learning curve.”
“The work ethic of those two is phenomenal,” Deming said. “They’ll do anything I ask of them. We just have to give them more reps so they can be more consistent.”
Juniors Brianna Bromgard and Jeananne Lemelin have been tasked by Senior coach Jeff Carroll to fill the shoes of four-year starter and two-time Gatorade player of the year winner Jace Henderson. But the two-time defending Class AA champions have talented and experienced players around Bromgard and Lemelin, giving the Broncs the depth – Carroll said he has a 10-player rotation that could grow to 11 -- that’s often needed to effectively run a 6-2 system.
“I guess the good part of it is you control the pace of the game with all the substitutions,” Carroll said with a chuckle before he became more serious. “But the tough part of it is, obviously, that’s a lot of adjustments for your team to make.”
First-year Central coach Kylie Kufeld, who has Mirrada Clarin and Barclay Fagg sharing the setting duties, said no matter the offensive system, everything really boils down to the rapport between the setters and the hitters.
“It’s just learning how to communicate,” said Kufeld, who played at Senior and Dartmouth College. “That’s been my big thing. I’m trying not to coach every single play. I want them to figure it out together.”
Senior opens the season Saturday at Belgrade, while West and Skyview are in Helena for matches against the Bengals and Helena Capital.
3 more things
• Class AA soccer coaches finally got their wish this season when the MHSA added two non-conference games to the schedule. For years, the AA season has consisted of 12 conference matches. Now, the Billings teams travel to Helena on Saturday for a pair of season-opening games against Western AA opponents.
• Despite six straight Class A championships and an 89-1 record in their last 90 matches, no one on the Billings Central girls soccer team is taking things for granted. Especially this year, with no seniors on the roster. The Rams start their quest for seven in a row Friday at home against Frenchtown.
• Billings West freshman golfer Joey Moore is off to a pretty good start to his career. Two tournaments played, two second-place finishes. His next chance is Sept. 4-5 at the Butte Invitational.