Billings Senior might have just one senior on its roster, but that doesn’t mean the Broncs aren’t built to win now. The question is, can they play at a championship level for three consecutive days?
“Sustained confidence,” coach Jeff Carroll said of the key to his team’s success. “We’re hoping that we can find that this weekend because if we do we certainly feel like we’d be one of the teams that would be in the mix.”
Just one of two teams this season to crack the 20-win mark during the regular season, Senior did so by relying on two of the program’s staples: serving (Senior ranked second at 2.33 aces per set) and blocking (a state-best 3.13 blocks per set).
So if the Broncs can raise their offense to a consistent level, watch out. Sophomore Kiahna Steiner hit .268, which ranked eighth, and also averaged 0.93 blocks per set (10th). Freshman Andrea Bowers was a top-10 server, while junior Elayna Rice (1.02 blocks per set) and junior Jacey Habets (5.82 digs per set, 2.24 serve receive accuracy) all complemented the steady influence of that lone senior, Chelsey Walter, who ranked in the top 10 in four categories (1.31 blocks per set, 2.27 serve receive accuracy, 0.56 aces per set, 2.62 kills per set).
“If you have to be young, you certainly want the type of young players that we have,” Carroll said. “We’ve certainly been talking about coming focused and ready to play. If we’re able to do that we feel pretty confident that we can play with any team that would show up on the other side of the net. Honestly, though, we’re more concerned with what we do than what anybody else is doing.”
Tournaments good to Skyview
Whenever there is a large gathering of teams, the Billings Skyview Falcons seem to be at their best. Particularly on the road.
They placed second at the Electric City Invitational in Great Falls, which featured all 14 Class AA teams and two Class A teams, and two weeks later were crowned co-champions (with Billings Senior) of the Dickinson, N.D., Invitational. The Falcons also went 4-0 on their home floor during the Border Wars, a one-day event that featured teams from Wyoming as well as West, Senior and Bozeman.
“I think that’s just a sign of maturity,” coach Vicki Carle said of her team’s road-tournament success. “We’ve got five seniors who are committed to this team and who are very good leaders. They take our team by the hand, and we walk in there confident and we do our thing.”
Statistically, the Falcons have been solid in just about every category, especially kills per set (second at 11.74) and blocks (fourth at 2.38). Mariah Stiffarm and Mikara Ostermiller rank in the top 10 in blocks, while Meghan Ballock, Anyssa Maciel and Kaitlyn Round are in the top 10 in serve receive. And Ballock and setter Lindsey Trollope make one of the best combinations around.
The trick now for the Falcons is to re-channel that large-tournament mojo. The Falcons ended a two-year absence from the state tournament with a playoff win over Butte.
“They’re really relaxed and real loose,” Carle said. “The pressure is off. Especially after you haven’t gone for two years, the big pressure is just getting to the state tournament and that was hanging over us. Now we’re just looking forward to playing our game.”
West or Senior has won the past seven state championships. … West has played in three consecutive finals, losing to Senior in 2008 and 2007. … Led by Monica Grimsrud (a state-best 5.10 kills per set) and setter Kyndal Williams, the Helena Bengals were cruising up until the last two weeks of the regular season. Winners of their first nine Western AA matches, the Bengals dropped their last three, and had to win a playoff match to earn a state berth. … Kalispell Glacier surged down the stretch — including a five-set win over Helena — to win the West’s automatic berth. With their solid ball-handling skills, the Wolfpack should be considered one of the favorites. … Bozeman enters the tourney with the state’s best attack efficiency (.239). Taylor Parker hit at a .485 clip to lead the state. … Kalispell Flathead averaged 2.47 aces per set to lead AA.
— Mike Scherting