SHELBY — Colette Webber wanted dancing, and the Joliet volleyball coach got it.
Her J-Hawks moved gracefully all over the court on Friday evening in a four-set victory over rival Huntley Project in the Class B state volleyball tournament’s undefeated semifinal. The 25-20, 25-22, 21-25, 25-20 victory vaulted the J-Hawks into the state championship on Saturday afternoon.
“I’ll be honest, this is how they played at districts when we beat (Huntley Project), but at divisionals (where Huntley Project bested the J-Hawks), I kind of lost my team. They lost their energy, celebration," said Webber. "Trying to build them back up this weekend, I really told them how they weren’t dancing well together, and we’ve talked about that, but this team when they move well together and everyone is engaged, the whole team gets involved in hitting and all that, they really come together and fight hard.
"They did not want to lose this game because we know how hard it is to come back in the morning, play and then have to beat somebody twice. … This win was so important and they really wanted it.”
Joliet wasted little time against the District 4B rival Red Devils, who swept the J-Hawks in the Southern B divisional championship game last weekend in Red Lodge. Joliet senior Makenna Bushman served three consecutive aces early in the first set, jumping to a quick 8-3 lead that forced Huntley Project coach Iona Stookey to call a timeout.
Stookey’s message worked, as the Red Devils battled back to take a one-point lead, 15-14, on a Greta Peterson kill, but Bushman had a pair of blocks and a kill of her own as the J-Hawks won the opening set 25-20. Skyler Wright had four kills in the opening set.
The two teams traded blows in the second set, with the Red Devils opening a three-point lead behind spectacular play from junior setter Macee Murphy. But Merrin Schwend had a field day finding Joliet’s hitters — Bushman finished with 19 kills, Wright had 12 and sophomore Chelsea DuBeau added six in the match. Junior Kyelynne Coombe also played strong at the net, with a key kill late in the second set helping the J-Hawks to a 25-22 win.
“It’s extremely nice. I can go to Makenna, Skyler, Chelsea, I can go to anybody and not be afraid, they’ll be ready,” said Schwend. “We just really worked on making the plays on our side, and also tipping and hitting hard, just to get them off their game. Sending over stuff they weren’t expecting.”
Huntley Project stayed alive with a third-set victory, with junior outside hitter Josie Hasler scoring the team’s final three points, all kills, in a 25-21 win. Hasler had a match-high 21 kills.
But Joliet was motivated to make it back to the state championship match, where they fell to the Red Devils in Bozeman a year ago, and the J-Hawk seniors took advantage of the opportunity. Bushman and Wright had key kills and blocks at the net, and Schwend continued controlling the offense, finishing with 34 assists, as Joliet capped the set with a Bushman block to win 25-20 and move on to Saturday’s noon championship match.
“I think we’re going to keep going with the same approach, working hard and going for everything," Schwend said of Saturday's strategy. "Playing together, playing as a family because this will be my last year and a few of the other girls’ last year, too.”
“The other goal is that they’re not allowed to play Guitar Hero unless they win, or eat pizza, so there’s some other incentive with this group of girls. Food and fun are definitely some incentive for this team to win, too," laughed Webber.
Huntley Project, which got 36 assists, nine kills and three aces from Murphy, fell to the third-place match on Saturday at 10 a.m. The three-time reigning champion Red Devils will meet Choteau, with the winner facing Joliet needing to win twice to earn the State B title.
CHOTEAU DEF. COLSTRIP 23-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-16
Ellie Lee had 12 kills and five blocks, Ada Bieler added eight kills and 21 digs and the Choteau Bulldogs eliminated the Colstrip Fillies in four sets at the State B volleyball tournament on Friday evening. Choteau won 23-25, 25-23, 25-18, 25-16 to advance to Saturday's championship day.
Christine Funk had 28 of the team's 32 assists, Anna Stutz had a team-high 22 digs and Emma Gunderson served up four aces in the win for Choteau, which is guaranteed a state trophy for the first time since 2011. The Bulldogs will meet Huntley Project at 10 a.m. with the defeated team finishing third, while the winner advances to the noon championship against Joliet.
"We're going to hurry up and get back on the bus, go sleep in our own beds, which is even nicer, and we're just thankful, right now, at this point in time, that we didn't get stopped because we weren't good enough," said Choteau head coach Ann Funk, "and we have an opportunity now to play (Saturday) on championship day, and it's been a long time for us. I'm extremely excited for these kids, what an honor."
"We just step into (Saturday), it's a new day, and we have to put up a block, be aggressive on the front line offensively and defensively, and we have to look to hit the floor, make some big digs and big plays," Funk continued of Saturday's 10 a.m. match against Huntley Project. "They're very athletic, an incredible team, well-coached and it's going to be what it is (Saturday). We're just thankful we're here, we're excited to be here."