FORT BENTON — The Fort Benton volleyball team advanced to the State C tournament last season for the first time since 2000. Hopes were high when the Longhorns took the floors in Bozeman, but after a tournament-opening win against Charlo, they lost their next two matches and failed to place.
Truth is, the team might not have been ready for that stage. But they’re doing everything in their power to make sure they are in 2020.
“We’ve gotten better at practicing, finishing through and everything,” said senior setter Maci Molinario. “And now that state is at Malta, it will be in a regular high school gym and not as big as an environment (as the state tournament in Bozeman) so we won’t be as stressed.”
The Longhorns went back to the drawing board this year, working on fundamentals and teamwork. And last week it led them to a second straight Northern C divisional title. Fort Benton dropped only two sets to division opponents all season long.
But it’s not just on the court where Fort Benton has improved. The Longhorns have also worked hard on the mental preparation it takes to succeed.
“We have life coach (Shannon Grossman) that comes in every once in a while, and she teaches us how to keep our head up,” said senior libero Jasmine Wilson. “She teaches us when we do get down to be in this neutral state and she's helped so much. She's taught us how to be a team.”
The last, and probably most important, aspect that will help Fort Benton is scheduling. Though the Longhorns finished the conference season with a perfect record, their only two losses of the season came to defending Class C champion Manhattan Christian and Northern B power Choteau. Those challenges prepared the team well for what lies ahead at state.
“We haven't had a lot of great matches this season. Other than those non-conference matches we’ve pretty much had an easy road, so it was nice to get a challenge,” said head coach Shana Diekhans. “We set our goals high to begin with. We wanted to be conference champs. We wanted to be district champs. We wanted to be divisional champs and we want to be state champs.”
Fort Benton opens the State C tournament in Malta Thursday at 10 a.m. against Melstone, the No. 2 seed out of the Southern division.