BILLINGS – Granted, it wasn’t that long ago, but Monica Grimsrud remembers well when the Helena Bengals won the 2010 Class AA volleyball championship.
“I can play it over pretty vividly in my head,” said Grimsrud, who was a senior on that title-winning team and then went on to a standout career at Montana State Billings. “It’s one of the best moments of my life, so far. I would love to have these girls experience that, to know what that feels like. It’s a pretty indescribable feeling.”
Grimsrud can start Billings West on that path Friday when the Golden Bears (18-10) take on Butte (4-17) in an Eastern AA playoff match at the Golden Dome. The winner advances to next week’s state tournament in Bozeman.
It’s a chance Grimsrud never thought she would have in this capacity this season. In her second year as the West junior varsity coach, Grimsrud was elevated to head coach last Thursday after a tumultuous couple days that saw three players leave the team and former head coach Kelly Deming tender her resignation.
Neither Deming nor Billings Public Schools have stated a reason for Deming’s departure. To Grimsrud and the remaining Bears, however, it’s the path in front of them that’s most important now.
“I think the girls have helped pick each other up all the way around,” said Bears senior Catherine Follett, who ranks fifth in the Eastern AA in kills per set (3.15) and sixth in digs per set (3.57). “We’re just pushing through. We’re doing whatever we have to do to get it done.”
A day after the coaching change was announced, the Bears swept Great Falls. They beat Great Falls CMR in four sets the next night. The challenge, Grimsrud said, was for the players to refocus and remember that their initial goals – getting to state – were still in front of them.
Grimsrud, as well as last weekend’s results, say the Bears were able to do that.
“The only thing I felt needed to be done was to make sure the girls were together, to make sure they were unified,” said Grimsrud, who is a kindergarten teacher at McKinley. “I sat down and talked with them and found out from them what they needed from me and my other coaches to help them through this and help bring them together.
“Basically, just really encourage them to feed off of each other and to use each other. Because that’s their biggest support through this is each other.”
Elsewhere in the AA
Before West and Butte take the court, Billings Skyview (8-19) travels to Great Falls (8-14) on Thursday in another winner-moves-on playoff.
The Falcons finished fifth in the Eastern AA. The Bison were fourth to earn the home match, which is scheduled for 6 p.m. Great Falls won both regular-season meetings.
Top-ranked Billings Senior, No. 2 Missoula Sentinel, No. 3 Helena Capital and Bozeman earned automatic berths to state. No. 5 Kalispell Glacier (11-7) qualified with a 3-1 playoff win over Missoula Big Sky on Tuesday.