BILLINGS – Tayler Larsen had the magic touch Friday night. Maybe she just had flawless decision-making.
A little bit of both from the Billings West setter went a long way for the Golden Bears, who advanced to the Class AA state volleyball tournament with a 25-20, 25-10, 25-13 playoff sweep of the Butte Bulldogs at the West gym.
The Bears (19-10) enter next weekend’s tournament as the No. 3 seed from the East and will play the West’s No. 2 seed, Helena Capital (18-6), in Thursday’s first round. Butte had its season end at 4-18.
Catherine Follett had 11 kills and Ellie Scherffius had eight. Larsen added to the attack with an aggressive mindset that saw her regularly put tips and dumps over the net that sent the Bulldogs scrambling. Larsen was credited with seven kills to go along with her 27 assists.
“She’s just gotten a lot more confidence in herself and her ability to see open spots on the court,” West interim coach Monica Grimsrud said. “She’s been doing a really good job of finding them, so that’s just something that she’s been developing throughout the season. I’m just glad she’s been putting it into play.”
Larsen credited her coaches and teammates with a lot of her success.
“My teammate, Molly Nault, sometimes will look over (the net) for me and tell me to send it,” Larsen said. “That’s part of our communication on the court. She’s really good at that.”
Kira Mortensen led Butte with 10 kills and four blocks. The Bulldogs, who finished as the sixth seed in the Eastern AA during the regular season, came to Billings on the heels of a previous playoff win against Great Falls CMR on Tuesday. Though they were competitive at the start Tuesday, a second playoff win was not to be.
“They’re coming along, it’s just taking time,” Butte coach Katrina Berg said of the Bulldogs, who hadn’t won a conference match in two years before winning two this season. “Small steps, baby steps. We’re building.”
The Bears are making their fourth consecutive trip to state, though the first under Grimsrud, who took over when former coach Kelly Deming stepped down a little more than a week ago. West has lost its last seven state-tournament matches dating back to 2012.
“We’ve got a couple players that have experience in that (state) environment and a lot of new, young players who have never experienced that before,” said Grimsrud, herself a state champion for Helena in 2010. “I’m hoping that we can really pull from those girls that were there last year, the last couple years, and look for them to lead the team. Because it’s a whole, new different environment.”