SIDNEY -- Billings Central wasn't going to let the Class A state volleyball championship go to an if-necessary match. The Rams swept Columbia Falls 25-23, 25-21 25-15 to claim their third state title in the past four years, helping erase the feeling of 2019's runner-up finish.
"Sophomore year, we had lost that first championship game, so I was just like, ‘We need to get this done, because we can’t go to a second game.’ I know how hard it is for Columbia Falls, they’re a great team, to bounce back and play in that championship game after losing so soon. They did a great job, too," Billings Central senior Cindy Gray said. "We just really wanted it this year after losing in the championship last year. We know how it feels to win, as well. All the emotions just come at once."
"It’s pretty incredible," Billings Central head coach Anita Foster said. "I think the emotion is just from the incredibly difficult season it’s been -- not just for us, just in general. The high emotion is just a job well done and finishing what we wanted to finish and what we worked for all season long. I’m just so incredibly proud of these girls. They did fantastic.”
The Rams fell behind early in the first set but rallied back to grab a 1-0 lead. Central put its foot down in the second set, jumping out to advantages of 6-1 and 12-5 before grabbing a 2-0 lead. While the Rams gained momentum, Columbia Falls' long weekend began to wore on the Wildkats, who secured their spot in the championship match earlier Saturday with a win over Hardin. The Bulldogs finished third.
"We knew Columbia Falls was going to be tired. They had a long drive. They had a long day (Friday), and then they played before we played," Foster said. "We knew they were going to be a little tired. The biggest thing we were focusing on is we needed to come out with a lot of energy from the first whistle. I feel like they really did that (Saturday). Sometimes we kind of lack on our first sets. State championship game, how could you not get up in the high energy for that game, so we were ready."
Gray was once again stellar for Central, racking up a game-high 14 kills. She also added three blocks. It was a balanced effort behind Gray, as Zi'Onna Leikam Morton, Mya Hansen, Maria Stewart and Isabelle Erickson had six kills. Hansen led Central with 3.5 blocks, while Stewart had 30 assists and Grace Zeier had 20 digs.
Madysen Hoerner led Columbia Falls with 13 kills. Hannah Schweikert had 23 assists for the runners-up.
As for the four-plus hour bus ride home?
"So much fun. We're going to be singing the whole time," junior Maria Stewart said.