HELENA — Tuesday night is crosstown night on the Class AA volleyball courts, as No. 2 Helena High pays a visit to No. 1 Helena Capital. Bragging rights are on the line, sure, but there’s plenty more at stake in this clash.
“I just love them,” said senior libero Kerste Pierce.
Call it cheesy if you like, but the Helena Capital volleyball team’s affection has paid dividends this season. The Bruins are 13-1 overall, 4-0 in the Western AA and the new No. 1 in Class AA. The fondness is beneficial, but there were some early-season hills to climb.
“I guess just trust between each other, that connection we need to have as a team for teamwork,” said Pierce.
“We definitely knew we were going to have holes this year, filling in for Katie (Culver) and Celina (Sanchez), but we have Paige (Bartsch) back and we’re just going to play,” said senior middle blocker Emily Kidder. “We just said, ‘Let’s see what we’ve got.’”
Kidder and Pierce are two of four seniors listed on the Capital roster, and each has grown into a new role this fall.
“After last year I definitely wanted to be the player I can, improving on everything I do. Not only that, I wanted to be a leader on our team and carry on through our season and play hard,” said Kidder.
‘Hard’ is a word one might use to describe Helena Capital’s hitting skills. The Bruins boast some of the top hitters in the state – sophomore Paige Bartsch leads Class AA in attack efficiency, while Sarah Ashley is No. 2 in kills per set – and shutting down their powerful offense has proven challenging for the opposition.
“Audrey (Hofer) is setting great sets to us hitters in the front row,” Kidder said of Class AA’s assist leader. “With all that, we’re just playing good.”
“I mean, I wouldn’t want to be on the other side of the net,” laughed Pierce.
Pierce and the Bruins will see a similar challenge across the nylon Tuesday night, when the Jamie Pickens-led Helena High Bengals, the No. 2 team in Class AA, invade the Bears’ Den for a crosstown clash.
“This game is pretty big for us, because we’re both tied for first (in the conference) right now,” Kidder said of the team’s identical 4-0 league marks. “Overall, it’s just going to be another game. It will decide who’s first and second, but it’s just another big game.”
“I guess it’s also about representing our school as a whole and being No. 1 in state and conference,” added Pierce.
With that much on the line, expect things to get a little rowdy on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s going to be huge. Everybody will be out to support — parents, grandparents, everybody,” said Pierce.
Across town, Helena High vaulted to No. 2 in the weekly Class AA coaches polls with that 13-2 overall and 4-0 conference mark. Putting the league’s, and potentially the state’s, No. 1 slot on the line has certainly provided motivation.
“We’re really pumped,” said outside hitter Vanessa Walsh. “We were talking in school (Monday) and everyone is saying, ‘Oh, we’re just so ready to go play.’”
“Oh, the girls are jacked,” said head coach Lindsay Day. “I think these big games and the atmosphere at crosstown are what the girls worked so hard for all summer long, so I know they’re going to come ready to play and ready to compete.”
Helena High offers size and speed, bringing balance on offense and defense, but the biggest key in Day’s eyes isn’t related to physical attributes.
“Composure, composure, composure,” said Day. “We just talk about not letting the lows get too low and trying to keep our consistency in play. We know we’re not going to play a perfect game, so we have to bounce back when things aren’t going our way.”
“I think a little bit, but our idea throughout the whole season has been one game at a time,” added Walsh. “It’s just another game we need to go take care of business and do our thing, come out with a win hopefully, and if we play our best volleyball I think that’s possible.”
Much like their crosstown counterparts, the Bengals fill the top-10 stat lists in Class AA, with Pickens leading the state in blocks and points per set, while Helena’s defense is among the best and ready for the challenge.
“I think they have some pretty big hitters, they’re a strong team in general,” said Walsh. “The Bartsch girls are good, they just have big forces at the net, but I think we can compete and we’re right there with them with our forces.”
“We have great height at the net. My girls are blocking strong and my defense is getting scrappier every day,” said Day. “They play with a lot of heart and it just sets us apart. I like the group that I get to work with this year.”
And sure, it’s cliché, but did we mention it’s crosstown?
“I think we’re excited. I know senior-wise, this is one of our last (crosstown games), so that’s a big factor for all of us. It’s exciting, it’s an exciting atmosphere for all of us to be in. Having all the kids there and having all the support, that’s an awesome game to go play in,” said Walsh.