HELENA — Saturday's State AA volleyball championship brought as much excitement as you’d expect from two undefeated teams. Great Falls CMR forced the match to five sets, but when it was all said and done, Helena Capital was not going to lose on its home court. While it took five sets for the Bruins to bring home another state championship, they said they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“During the fourth set, I was sitting there and I was like, 'Sorry, guys, this is our last time as seniors. This is our last set,'" said senior setter Audrey Hofer. "And then I was like, 'Looks like we love each other too much. We’re going another one.'”
Saturday’s win notched the Bruins their third straight championship, becoming just the third program to do so in Class AA history. While the Bruins were able to complete another perfect season, extending their record-setting winning streak to 71 matches, Saturday was the fourth time all season Capital was tested in five sets.
“I think we felt the momentum switch when our passing started being on, and our team started getting into it a little bit more," said senior middle captain Paige Bartsch. "I think we lacked a little bit of energy in the beginning, but we brought it back. We just decided we just have to stop playing bad. We have to play better.”
Saturday’s win was extra special for Paige Bartsch. It was the last time she’d ever play a volleyball match with her twin sister Dani.
“I just wanted to win another state championship with my sister and Audrey because I won’t be able to play with them again, and this was Dani’s last game," added Bartsch. "I didn’t want it to be a loss for her, so I was really happy with how it went.”
Her sister Dani left it all out on the court to cap off her volleyball career, leading the Bruins with 16 digs. It’s a memory that Hofer will hold onto for the rest of her life, and she couldn’t help but get emotional realizing that this was the last time she’d be on the court with one of her best friends.
“She is who I look to when I struggle, and she looks to me, and she’s just one of my best friends," added Tofer. "This is one of the hardest things, saying goodbye to her.”
It was an especially emotional win for Capital’s six seniors, who have been building a volleyball dynasty for the past four years and weren’t even sure if they’d be able to play this last season.
“We’ve worked since my freshman year, doing everything we can," said Hofer. "With COVID and everything, and getting our basketball season cut short and not getting to feel this feeling in the state championship, this is just finishing something out that I’ve always wanted to do.”
Head coach Rebecca Cleveland couldn’t help but shed a few tears during the final points of Saturday’s match. From watching six young freshmen step into the gym for the first time four years ago to making history as seniors, she couldn’t believe that the time has already flown by.
"What does it mean to have been able to coach them? It’s an honor, and they have left their legacy for our program," Cleveland said.