The now three-time district champion Libby High School volleyball team came away with first place in the 2018-2019 Northwest A District Tournament, beating the Whitefish Lady Bulldogs in three in the final match.
While the Lady Loggers had yet to lose a match to Whitefish this season, Saturday’s championship round was the soundest victory they have had against the Lady Bulldogs.
Libby moved into the lead early in all three sets, and stayed there.
They ended the first set 25-15, the final kill coming from junior Sheyla Gallagher after fellow senior Mehki Sykes did a flawless fake-out that left Whitefish unprepared for Gallagher’s assault.
Though the Lady Bulldogs pushed back during the second set — coming to within two points of Libby, 10-8, with a four-point run — Libby came back from a time out to take a nine-point lead before Whitefish was able to score again, ending the set 25-11.
The Lady Bulldogs didn’t give up easily, though, and in the third set took a brief two-point lead. They held for the first few volleys, but an ace from junior Ashlyn Monigold finally re-established Libby dominance, 6-5.
The Lady Bulldogs were able to establish one more short run, but were unable to put together enough to overcome the Lady Loggers, who won the set 25-17.
The game stood in contrast to the previous evening, when Whitefish beat the Columbia Falls Wildkats in a five-set match where the two teams went at it like ‘kats and ‘dogs.
The Lady Bulldogs and Wildkats took each other to the limit, with the third set decided 27-25, Whitefish, and the final set a back-and-forth battle to the end.
Given the closer matches Libby had against Whitefish during the regular season, Libby Head Coach Cindy Ostrem-Johnston reflected on the impact of recent difficult matches the Lady Loggers have faced.
“This year, getting to play Sandpoint, even though we lost that match, and the competition that we had at the Missoula Tournament, I think has prepared us well for the postseason,” she said.
Libby had a 3-2 loss to Sandpoint at the end of their regular season.
In their early sets against Sandpoint and playing Hellgate last weekend in Missoula, the Lady Loggers came out playing as if they were scared of losing, Ostrem-Johnston said. She told them there was no reason to be that way against those teams.
“You guys are a great team, and you’re an experienced team,” she told them.
But those matches served as good opportunities to work through any nerves before the team progresses further into the postseason and on to the state tournament.
Ostrem-Johnston said that she hopes the experience from last year, when the Lady Loggers took fourth place at state, will help as both experience and motivator to reach the championship match at state.
“Hopefully this year we can take advantage of that, that we’ve been there now and they know what it’s all about,” she said.
With their decisive victory against Whitefish, there was no reason to doubt that Libby has an eye on playing their best every time their feet touch the court.
The Lady Loggers pulled off a team attack percentage of .386, and senior Mehki Sykes lead the team with a .577, sending kill after kill streaking past the Lady Bulldogs.
The Lady Loggers also had a 2.18/3.0 serve receive ratio, with senior Jayden Winslow chasing perfection with a 2.71. Winslow had 10 digs for the match, second only to fellow senior and Libby libero Emma Gruber with 21, who also pulled off a 2.36 serve receive ratio.
Seniors McKenzie Proffitt and Jayden Winslow led in blocks, with five and three respectively, and Ostrem-Johnston complimented their efforts.
“Our blockers did a tremendous job controlling their hitters, especially McKenzie,” she said by email.
And Ostrem-Johnston also recognized senior setter Alli Collins with her 35 assists. “Alli did a great job spreading the offense out and mixing it up to make it tough on their blockers.”
Both by email and on the night of the championship match, Ostrem-Johnston emphasized what the Lady Loggers had accomplished as a team.
“It gives me great joy to see them out there celebrating and just being a team,” she said after the match. “They’ve done a great job this weekend of just coming together and really being a solid team. I congratulated them for playing such solid volleyball out there, and they all stepped up and contributed.”
The six seniors with their eyes on the state championship this year were already getting varsity time as freshmen, Ostrem-Johnston said. Collins, Sykes and Winslow were all on the varsity roster that year, and Gruber, Jessika Jones and Linsey Walker were getting time in varsity matches.
By their sophomore year, they were all on the varsity team.
That experience shows in how well they play now, but getting there in the first place and what they have done since speaks to their dedication as well, Ostrem-Johnston said. From time in the weight room to camps in the off season and during open gym, the Lady Loggers have paid their dues.
“They’ve put a lot of time in, and it’s showing,” she said. “So, I’m glad they’re reaping the benefits.”
And as she closes out her final year coaching, Ostrem-Johnston expressed no regret for the time she has put into the team either.
“I am just blessed to be a part of it,” she said.
Coaching what she realized would be her final match in the Ralph Tate Memorial Gym at Libby High School, Ostrem-Johnston found herself relishing every moment, she said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better day than today to end on — in this gym, anyway, for volleyball.”
Ostrem-Johnston smiled through tears at the end of the match, but her focus now is on the coming weeks, she said.
The Lady Loggers play in the Western Divisional Tournament in Whitefish on Thursday, with their first match against Butte Central at 10 a.m.
The winner of that match will progress to face either Columbia Falls or Stevensville at 6 p.m.
2018-2019 Northwest A District Tournament
Friday, Oct. 26
Libby 3, Polson 0
Sets: 25-13, 25-10, 25-9
L: 13 ace, 36 kill, 31 assist, 5 block, 33 dig; Alli Collins 1 ace, 3 kill, 31 assist, 4 dig; Sheyla Gallagher 1 kill, 1 dig; Jayden Winslow 1 ace, 9 kill, 6 dig; McKenzie Proffitt 5 kill, 2 block, 3 dig; Mehki Sykes 12 kill, 3 block, 1 dig; Ashlyn Monigold 1 ace, 6 dig; Kylee Quinn 2 ace; Linsey Walker 2 ace, 9 dig; Jessika Jones 6 kill; Emma Gruber 6 ace, 3 dig
Saturday, Oct. 27
Libby 3, Whitefish 0
Sets: 25-15, 25-11, 25-17
L: 6 ace, 41 kill, 38 assist, 7 block, 43 dig; Alli Collins 1 kill, 35 assist, 2 dig; Sheyla Gallagher 2 kill, 1 assist, 1 dig; Jayden Winslow 3 ace, 10 kill, 3 block, 10 dig; Kenzi Proffitt 4 kill, 1 assist, 5 block, 2 dig; Mehki Sykes 17 kill, 1 assist, 2 block; Ashlyn Monigold 4 dig; Kylee Quinn 2 ace; Linsey Walker 2 dig; Jessika Jones 7 kill, 1 dig; Emma Gruber 1 ace, 21 dig