HELENA -- Ask any player on the Helena High volleyball program what the team's strategy has been throughout the postseason and will be entering Tuesday night's semifinal at Great Falls CMR, and you're likely to get the same answer: a simple motto instilled by head coach Lindsey Day that's powered the Bengals back to the trophy round.
"Control the controllables on our side of the net," said defensive specialist Brooke Ark. "We don't really know how (CMR) plays, so we'll probably prepare just as much as we did (Saturday) and hopefully come out to win."
"I trained them well," Day laughed. "We try to control the controllables on the court and even off the court, with all the COVID-19. There are certain things you can't control, but there are certain things we have to try and control the best we can. We talk about serving tough, playing good defense and getting the ball to our setters so we can execute our offense effectively.
"We know we're up against a good challenge (at CMR), but we couldn't be more excited about the challenge. We know they have a lot of weapons, we know they're an undefeated team, which is kind of a norm for us to go against an undefeated team (in rival Helena Capital), so that's a good thing for us moving forward. We just want to give it the best we can and feel good about what we come out and perform like."
Day's message of self-focus has allowed the Bengals to become a well-oiled machine on the court. Ark is one of the top servers in the state and nears the top of the league's digs-per-set category. Multiple setters -- Katelyn Onespot-Danforth, Kim Feller and Dani Steinmetz -- spent time on Class AA's assist leaderboard -- and senior Liz Heuiser is one of the most lethal hitters in Montana, leading AA in points per set and hitting percentage per the last compiled statistics.
"Overall, it's going to take all of us. We worked through a lot of rotational changes (last week), and I couldn't be more impressed with some of my younger athletes that stepped up and filled some roles that maybe they didn't anticipate in the postseason. That's been pretty awesome to watch," said Day.
During a normal year, which 2020 has been anything but, the state semifinal round would be one of the most electric atmospheres during the typical all-class state volleyball tournaments held at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman. Class AA's decision to move to a playoff format for its postseason offers a much different feel, though playing this deep into an uncertain season isn't something lost on the Bengals.
"It's way different, but we didn't really expect this to happen. We're super lucky to be playing in November, something that we all are super grateful for," said Ark. "We're just lucky to be playing together. It's weird because we don't have a lot of fans as it is, we get our parents and stuff, which is fun, but it's definitely different, way different."
"I know that the girls have embraced this opportunity," agreed Day. "We've talked about the sadness of not being in Bozeman and not having that big tournament feel, but all of us are so grateful for the opportunity to have a season, be together in the gym every single day and they're not taking that for granted."
Each of the four remaining teams -- Helena, CMR, Helena Capital and Billings West -- are guaranteed state trophies, as Class AA won't conduct a third-place match but will deliver semifinalist trophies to the teams defeated in Tuesday's semifinals. It's a stage 12 other Class AA programs would love to be part of.
Said Day: "To bring hardware home is the ultimate goal, and top four in the state is a pretty good accomplishment that we're not going to lose sight of."
Make one thing clear, though: There's no settling for one of the semifinalist trophies.
"Heck no," ensured Day.