VOLLEYBALL: Northwest squads tip off at state

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Libby coach Cindy Ostrem-Johnston rallies her team during a timeout in a game against Whitefish Thursday, Sept. 21 in Libby. (John Blodgett/The Western News)

By EVAN MCCULLERS

The Daily Inter Lake

BOZEMAN — Four area teams began play at the all-class state volleyball tournament Thursday at Montana State’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

Glacier is the Northwest’s lone representative in Class AA.

The Wolfpack will be tested immediately, as it’s matched up with Billings Senior — the No. 1 seed from the East — in its opening round match at 2 p.m. today. Glacier faced Senior twice at the Great Falls Invitational back in September, but both were shortened matches in pool play.

“As the underdog, we have nothing to lose,” Glacier coach Christy Harkins said. “Play hard, and you never know what could happen. We’ve been faced with these challenges all season long, and a bunch of these teams have given us great challenges. We’re ready to jump up and compete.”

The Wolfpack enters the state tournament more than a week removed from its last match, a four-set triumph over Missoula Big Sky that clinched its spot in the state tournament.

Harkins said the layoff has given her squad a chance to work on fundamentals, and she hopes the improvement is evident on the court this afternoon.

“We had some time to do some individual work with athletes, and I saw us get a little bit better on defense,” Harkins said. “I feel pretty confident. We’re playing some of the best ball that we can play right now.”

Whitefish and Libby will represent the Northwest in the Class A state tournament.

The Bulldogs meet Belgrade in the first round at 2 p.m., while the Loggers face off with Fergus at noon.

Corvallis downed Whitefish and beat Libby twice to take the crown at last week’s divisional, but both teams will look to advance and get a shot at revenge this weekend.

“If we can keep our mental toughness going into this weekend, I think we’ll come out looking pretty good,” Whitefish coach Addy Connelly said. “We’ve been working on being more competitive and emotionally sound, just bringing a lot of intensity to the game.”

Whitefish lost its only previous meeting with Belgrade this year at the Blockbuster Tournament in Butte, a tournament Connelly recalled as “rough” for her team. But as the Bulldogs have prepared for state, their focus has been where it’s been all year — on themselves, not their opponent.

“If they’re blocking well, hitting well, great,” Connelly said. “Adjust so we can stop them. But we’re mostly focusing on what we do on our side of the court rather than what they’re doing. If we just play our game, we should be good.”

Libby is out to rebound from a disappointing ending to a strong divisional tournament.

The Loggers ran roughshod through the Northwest A conference and most of the divisional, but couldn’t finish off Corvallis for the title.

“I think that’s definitely a motivator,” Loggers coach Cindy Ostrem-Johnston said. “They know they kind of broke down mentally in that match ... I think we can learn a lot from that.”

Libby stills enters the state tournament as the West’s No. 2 seed and one of the favorites to make a run at the state title.

“They’re excited to be here, but they’re not satisfied with just being here,” Ostrem-Johnston said. “They want to go out there and give it their best shot and try to win a state championship.”

Eureka, the area’s only representative in Class B, arrives in Bozeman searching for a fairytale ending.

The program is making its first appearance at the state tournament in 11 years, and the team is looking to send coach Charli Chapman and her staff, who are coaching their final tournament for the Lions, out on a high note.

We kind of have a perfect storm of a story,” Chapman said. “I have five seniors on the team, and it’s my last season with the program.

“We’d love to just kind of have that ending to this story of this season and our time with these girls in the program these past five years. It would just be epic. It’d be awesome.”

Eureka tip off against Three Forks at 4 p.m. today.

“We’re kind of the unknown because we haven’t been there in a long time, which I think is an advantage for us,” Chapman said. “We look at each tournament as a new season. It’s 0-0 for everybody. Tournaments are crazy. Anything can happen.”

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