BOZEMAN — The Billings West Golden Bears had one three-set comeback in them Saturday.
The Helena Bengals made sure they didn’t have two.
Helena took the State AA volleyball championship trophy from the Bears, beating the defending champions 25-12, 25-9, 26-24 Saturday afternoon at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
Helena got 17 kills from Monica Grimsrud, 12 kills from Sydne Simanton and 45 overall compared with West’s 19 as the Bengals (24-3) claimed their first volleyball title and the first in eight years for the Western AA.
“We just came out energized,” Helena junior setter Kyndal Williams said. “We were ready to go. We were blocking well. That was huge for us, and our defense was huge. We got everything up. It was incredible.”
The championship trophy has resided in Billings for the past seven seasons, and the Bears appeared in the title match for the fourth consecutive year. But West couldn’t duplicate the magic it showed in the morning when it reached the championship by overcoming a two-set deficit and three match points to beat Kalispell Glacier.
When play resumed following a short break after the Glacier match, West found itself down to the Bengals 14-5 right away in the first set. The second set wasn’t any better for the Bears, who finally righted things in the third set. But it was too late, and despite fighting off three match points, the Bears (27-7) finally succumbed on two hitting errors.
“It was a good match there at the end, and that’s what I asked the kids to do,” West coach Beth Tocci said. “Please compete hard for yourselves, show composure, show character and leave everything on the floor. And they did in that third game.”
Tocci said mental fatigue played more of a factor than physical fatigue for her team’s slow start. Either way, it was a tough road to go against a Helena team that had spent most of the season as the No. 1 team in the coaches’ power poll and entered the championship unbeaten. The Bears would have had to beat Helena twice to hold on to their state title.
“I think we had a lot more in us than we demonstrated,” Tocci said. “That third game, I think if we could have played that when we opened, it would have built up confidence a little more.”
West played Helena in Thursday’s first round but lost a 2-0 lead, and the Bengals went on to victory that day. As it turned out, it was the first step to a state championship that ended a 17-year drought for Bengals coach Sheila Williams.
“You just have to stick around long enough,” she joked.
Cherina Walen led West with 19 kills in the championship match, while Janiel Olson had 11 digs and five blocks.
In the win over Glacier, Walen had 18 kills, Kylie Nielsen 13 and Jenna Fiscus 12. Nielsen also had 15 blocks and Walen had 33 digs.