BOZEMAN — Losses probably don’t come tougher than the one suffered by Billings West in the quarterfinals of the State AA volleyball tournament Thursday.
Winners of the first two sets against Helena, and then later two points away from clinching the match, the Bears wound up on the losing end as the Bengals won 3-2 to send the defending state champions into the loser-out bracket.
Helena (22-3) will meet Kalispell Glacier in tonight’s unbeaten semifinal. Glacier (20-5) got past Billings Senior 3-0, meaning no Billings team will play in the unbeaten semifinal for the first time in at least nine years.
Helena won 26-28, 17-25, 25-19, 25-15 and 15-13 in a match that had way too many momentum swings for the Bears. They trailed set five 6-1 before battling back to take a 13-12 lead on a tip by Kylie Nielsen.
But Helena, which spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the coaches’ poll before faltering in the final week, scored the final three points on a West missed serve, a Monica Grimsrud kill and a block from Grimsrud and Kyndal Williams to stun the top-ranked Bears.
“It was a real gut check for us, and we did it,” said Grimsrud, who had a match-high 29 kills for the Bengals. “We believe in ourselves.”
West coach Beth Tocci thought her team did, too, until the Bears imploded in sets three and four and fell just short in the decisive set.
“We quit doing our game plan,” Tocci said. “We were doing well going wide at the pins, driving the ball over the small blockers, taking advantage of putting the ball away when (Grimsrud was) in the back row. But the biggest disappointment is we just refused to change the way that we were playing.
“That’s a huge disappointment showing that level of lack of poise.”
Senior coach Jeff Carroll was disappointed in his team’s showing, too. Coming off a spirited 3-2 win over Missoula Sentinel in Thursday’s first round, the Broncs fell 25-15, 25-19, 25-20 to the Wolfpack.
“We came out pretty flat, low energy level,” Carroll said. “Hard to understand at the state tournament. At times we did some good things offensively, but where we really got hurt was defensively.
“We’re the top blocking team in the state and to have only seven blocks when we average three blocks per set ... it wasn’t that we couldn’t block, it’s that we didn’t. Simple as that.”
Glacier had 41 kills in the three sets compared with Senior’s 30.
“Glacier looked like a team that was extremely hungry, and I thought my team was, too,” said Carroll, whose Broncs (22-9) will play a loser-out match at 2 p.m. “We get another day to play and hopefully an opportunity where we’ll play hard from start to finish.”
West (25-5) plays a loser-out match at 4 p.m.
“It’ll just show us if we really want it, you know?” Tocci said.
Skyview falls early
Skyview had Glacier, the No. 1 seed from the West, on the ropes with a 24-21 lead in the first set. But the Wolfpack scored the final seven points, the last two on a kill by Lexy Boschee and a Rachel Cutler block.
The Falcons never regained their focus after after that and dropped into today’s loser-out bracket.
“We let that first one slip away, and I don’t think we ever recovered,” said Skyview coach Vicki Carle, whose team was making its first state appearance in two years. “They missed a lot of serves and gave us every opportunity to win that game and we just didn’t capitalize on it.”
Carle credited Glacier setter Paige Latimer with moving her sets around but also said her team made too many mental mistakes.
The Falcons (18-10) will face Missoula Sentinel (18-7) today at noon.
“We can still be successful in this tournament,” Carle said. “We have to clean up our act a little bit and we have to come out a little less tight. I think we were a little tight and a little nervous.”