SHELBY -- The Joliet volleyball program ended the 2020 season the same way it started it: ending a Huntley Project streak.
After opening the year with a five-set victory that snapped the Red Devils' 101-match winning streak, the J-Hawks danced to a straight-sets sweep in the State B championship match on Saturday, snapping the Project's three-year reign as Class B champion.
Joliet won 25-18, 25-21, 25-17 for the first volleyball championship in program history.
"I've told them, 'With everything sad going on, we're going to be able to look back on this and this is going to be a bright spot for our community, for these girls,'" said Joliet head coach Colette Webber. "It's going to be one of the best things to happen in 2020. We're pretty excited."
"It's kind of funny, we call it the bright spot of 2020, with COVID going on, this is the bright spot in our community," added senior hitter Skyler Wright. "This was a big deal to us, small to the world, but a big deal to us."
Some 16 hours after defeating the rival Red Devils in four sets in the undefeated semifinal, the J-Hawks rode the momentum into championship day.
Joliet scored the first two points of Saturday's championship and trailed only briefly in the opener. Skyler Wright served up an ace that put Joliet up 12-7, then fellow senior hitter Makenna Bushman added a kill moments later to extend the lead to seven. The J-Hawks pulled away for a 25-18 win in Set 1.
"We were both teams based on momentum, so whoever got the first two games just got the momentum and the other team kind of shut down," said Bushman. "Once we got the first two games, I was feeling pretty confident."
Set 2 looked like another easy win for the J-Hawks, but Huntley Project scored six straight points to turn a nine-point deficit into a 22-19 Joliet lead, but a Wright kill on the left side, followed by a Red Devil error, put the J-Hawks up two sets with a 25-21 win.
The two teams traded points in the early goings of Set 3, but Joliet pulled away for a five-point lead, 15-10, on an Annika Bushman kill. She added another minutes later to stretch the lead to seven, then Makenna Bushman tipped the ball to an open spot in the center of the Red Devil defense that pushed the lead to 19-11.
Makenna Bushman, one of the four Joliet seniors, capped off match point in the same fashion she did in Friday's undefeated semifinal, blocking a Red Devil hit in the middle of the court, giving Joliet the set, sweep and championship.
"(Watching the ball hit the floor) was honestly indescribable. It's an overwhelming joy," said Wright. "During those last couple points, my heart was pounding, so close you could taste it. I had to take a breath and tell myself, 'It's not over. It's not ours yet. Take a breath.' Once I saw that last ball drop, it was immediate tears. Best way to cap off a senior season."
"It was tears, right off the bat," agreed senior setter Merrin Schwend. "I can't even explain how exciting that was. The emotion that we've had over these years, finally getting this victory was so amazing, so great to experience."
Makenna Bushman finished the match with 17 kills, 11 digs and two blocks, while Wright added nine kills and 17 digs. Schwend doled out 28 of the team's 30 assists in the championship-clinching win.
Huntley Project was led by Josie Hasler's seven kills, while Josee Krum, Cearra Oblander and Greta Peterson each recorded five. Macee Murphy had 19 assists and 13 digs in the runner-up finish.
The J-Hawk seniors finish their high school volleyball careers with three state trophies -- one each for finishing first, second and third. Joliet placed third four seasons ago in Bozeman, and was runner-up to the Red Devils last year at state.
"It feels so good. Everything just fell into place," said senior Kylia Kliner. "It felt so good to be with my friends, it's the best. We've played all season, finally hit our peak, and this just feels so good. This feeling is way better (than imagined). It's so much better, bittersweet. Senior year, I walked off the court and the team got that final point, my heart dropped. We're state champs."
HUNTLEY PROJECT DEF. CHOTEAU 20-25, 25-14, 20-25, 28-26, 15-12 (THIRD PLACE)
For the first time since 2011, the Choteau Bulldogs left the State B volleyball tournament with some hardware.
Choteau finished third after dropping a heart-breaking five-set match to Huntley Project on Saturday morning, falling in the final set 15-12. The Bulldogs led 2-1 in the match, but dropped the final two sets to earn the third-place trophy.
Ellie Lee had 20 kills and Ada Bieler added 14 for the Bulldogs, who got 12 more from Emma Gunderson. Christine Funk dished out an astounding 47 assists, while Bieler and Taylor Asselstine combined for 16 blocks.
The Red Devils were led by Josie Hasler's 27 kills, while Macee Murphy added 17 of her own. Murphy finished with 34 assists.