BOZEMAN — Hardin lifted the Class A state volleyball trophy Saturday at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, but the championship might have been won back in September.
Hardin lost a nondescript match to Lockwood early in the season, lighting a fire under the Bulldogs that wouldn't be extinguished.
"That really fueled our fire because we weren't expecting it and we didn't necessarily want it, so it definitely helped us know that we don't ever want to do that again," said senior Macy Uffelman.
"It's one of those things where it stings and it makes you want to work harder," Hardin senior Aubrey Nedens added. "So overall I feel like that loss really turned a corner and made us work extra hard at the end, so it paid off."
Since that loss to Lockwood, Hardin was unstoppable and didn't lose a match the rest of the season. The Bulldogs didn't drop a set at the Class A state tournament, capping their stellar week with a 25-14, 25-20, 28-26 win over Easter A rival Billings Central in the championship match Saturday.
Behind the trio of Nedens, Uffelman and junior MaKenna Torske, Hardin dominated Central in the first set, won a hard-fought second set and then survived a third-set thriller.
"It's for sure nerve-racking, but in the end this is what we work for all year, so you just have that stamina to keep going and push to the end, and that's what we did," Nedens said. "So I'm really proud of everyone for that."
"Just for this team to be able to do this after playing together for so long, it's just so important and it means a lot to us," Uffelman said.
Saturday's sweep was Hardin's seventh win over Billings Central this season and ended the Rams' quest to become the first Class A team to win four consecutive state championships.
Now, Hardin will bring home the title for the first time since 2002.
"Literally still shaking from it. Just looking around with all our fans here, friends and family — the whole town is here really. It's just a really surreal feeling and I'm happy we got here," Nedens said. "I'm really excited to go home and share this with the school. Us and cross country got to bring home a title this year, so it's really exciting. And hopefully we can keep the momentum going for all the sports."