BOZEMAN - Billings Senior is one win from grabbing a piece of Class AA volleyball history.
The three-time defending champion Broncs will go for their fourth consecutive title after beating Billings West 25-20, 22-25, 25-18, 25-21 Friday evening in the unbeaten semifinals of the state tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.
This afternoon's opponent has yet to be decided, but the Broncs know this: Earning another championship today would put them on equal footing with only one other AA program. No AA team has won four consecutive championships since Missoula Sentinel (1985-88) in the early years of high school volleyball.
"It's an amazing feeling just to have the opportunity to do something like that," said Kaitie Pellinen, one of five seniors on the Broncs' roster.
Kylie Kufeld bailed out the Broncs on several occasions on a night where the offense struggled, attributable in part to an effective early block by the Golden Bears. Kufeld finished with 23 kills, followed by 10 from Mo Ritter and nine from Pellinen. It wasn't until the end stages of the third game that the Broncs took control.
They scored the final five points of that game, two on aces by Chelsey Walter, and had a big lead in game 4 before the Golden Bears charged back.
After trailing by as many as nine points, West cut the lead to 23-18 on a kill by Mikensi Romersa. But a block by Ritter ended one three-point run by the Golden Bears, and after another three-point run, Kylie Edinger ended the match with one of her team-high six blocks.
"I thought West battled extremely hard," Senior coach Jeff Carroll said. "But any team with less character than what my team has and it would have been pretty easy to fold, but we did not."
Romersa had 12 kills and Jennifer Stone added 11 as the Golden Bears attempted to end Senior's unbeaten season and now 63-match winning streak in one swoop. But after winning the second game, the Golden Bears couldn't match the success they had earlier in the match.
West (24-8) continues it season this morning at 11 against Missoula Sentinel, and a win in that match will put the Golden Bears right back against Senior in the championship.
"We've just grown too far to settle for a third-place trophy," West coach Beth Tocci said. "We've got to find a way to get back in that championship match. I trust that these kids will do that."
As for the Broncs (30-0), they will wait and see who their opponent will be before hitting the floor at 1 p.m. today. Because Senior is undefeated, today's opponent will have to beat the Broncs twice to prevent them from winning another championship.
"We definitely want that legacy," Broncs senior Emily Carroll said. "But we know it's not going to be easy because we saw tonight that West High came out and played with a lot of heart, and we definitely respect that. They're a great team."
West had 16 blocks, led by Lauryn McKay's six, and Erin Compton had 15 digs. Edinger finished with six of Senior's 14 blocks, and Kari Sparrow led the Broncs with 15 digs.
Sentinel survived Friday's loser-out play with victories over Great Falls CMR and Helena. Helena took fourth place after falling to the Spartans in four games in the final match of the night Friday.
Earlier Friday, Great Falls defeated Kalispell Flathead, CMR beat Kalispell Glacier, and Helena beat Great Falls.