BILLINGS — The latest sign of the apocalypse? Billings Senior didn't qualify for this weekend's state volleyball tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman.
It's true. The Broncs, the defending Class AA champions and winners of 13 titles in the program's illustrious history, bowed out of the Eastern divisional tournament last weekend in a Saturday morning loser-out match, leaving them on the outside looking in.
It's the first time since 2004 that Senior won't be competing at state — a fact that left 6-foot-3 hitter Leela Ormsby a bit downcast for more than one reason (Ormsby missed the end of the season when she slipped on ice and broker her fibula).
"We came up short," Ormsby told MTN Sports. "It was a really disappointing way to end the season."
Had she been healthy things might have been different for the Broncs. But Ormsby still has a vested interest in the tournament — to cheer on her teammates from her other volleyball sisterhood as they chase a state title.
Ormsby is a member of Big Sky Volleyball, a decorated USA Volleyball club program based in Bozeman that has taken flight in Montana under the leadership of directors Kandice Gregorak and Shannon Lundgren and an array of coaches. The club competes during the winter and spring months outside of the high school season.
Members of the club's 17s and 18s teams that will be playing at state this weekend include Cadence Lundgren, Taylor Speake and Karsen Breeding of Bozeman Gallatin, Makenzie Jackson and Chloe Sanders of Helena High, and Laurel Fox, Bria Isley, Sofia Kimmel and Morgan Jones of Bozeman High. And there's plenty more where they came from.
The tournament will not only be a battle for hardware but will also serve as a showcase of the talent Big Sky Volleyball is helping to cultivate across the state.
Gregorak took over the Big Sky program seven years ago, and her volleyball background is extensive. Gregorak (née Kelly) won four state titles at Roundup High School as a dominant player at every position on the floor. That led her to a record-setting career as a libero at Montana State and later into coaching at the University of Montana.
But this venture is truly special; with 17 total teams, BSVC is creating competitive opportunities for kids in Montana that they otherwise wouldn't have.
"My main mission was to try to get all the best athletes on one team," Gregorak said. "Dividing the talent only waters down the teams." As a result, Gregorak said, "We believe BSVC is positioned to provide the best experience in volleyball development and exposure for Montana youth."
It's hard to argue with the results. Cadence Lundgren, for one, recently committed to play in college at Kansas State, while Jackson and Jenna Garvert are headed to Montana State. Josie Blazina is headed to Montana, and Breeding and Maddie Swanson are off to Colorado Mesa and Hawaii Hilo, respectively.
Ormsby, Speake and Sanders have yet to commit but are gaining plenty of interest from the college ranks.
"Without (BSVC) I wouldn't have gotten the exposure or the amount of college coaches that have been able to watch me play," Cadence Lundgren said. "Big Sky Volleyball has been able to bring me to some of the top USAV tournaments in the country. So for me to be able to get that exposure and be in front of those coaches really allowed me to get that opportunity at Kansas State."
Jackson joined the club two years ago after competing at nationals. She, Cadence Lundgren, Speake and Ormsby had the opportunity to play at the invite-only Under Armour camp series in Dallas.
Jackson echoed Cadence Lundgren's sentiments.
"It's very intense, the competition level," she said. "You're taking all the best players from across Montana and putting them together on one team so that we can go compete at these tournaments. It's really cool the exposure it creates, because Montana is still a developing state when it comes to volleyball."
As Cadence Lundgren indicated, players (and their families) have made the necessary commitment to travel to be a part of the Big Sky club. Two examples are Ormsby and Swanson, teammates at Senior High who make a 300-mile commute to and from Bozeman just for practice. Jackson and Sanders make a similar trek from Helena.
Beyond that, the club itself has competed at USA Volleyball tournaments across the country. Due to its success, the Big Sky 17s team earned a spot at USAV's prestigious national invitational tournament Feb. 17-19 in Kansas City.
Only 32 teams per age division are invited nationwide. Cadence Lundgren, Sanders, Ormsby, Speake, Jones, Fox, Isley and Addie Falls Down (Billings Senior) make up the roster.
"We will be competing against the best clubs in the country," Gregorak said.
While this weekend's state tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in Bozeman will be a battle for hardware, it will also be a showcase for the talent the Big Sky Volleyball club is cultivating.
Though she'll be a spectator, Senior's Ormsby said she will keep a close eye on her club teammates as they chase a title.
"I want them all to have success, but I really just want them to go and have a blast," she said. "We all play volleyball because we love it and we know how competitive it can be. So I just want them to compete at the best of their abilities, which I know they will."
Tryouts for the 2023-24 Big Sky club season begin Sunday, the day after the state tournament, and continue into December. For further information on Big Sky Volleyball, click here.