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Big Horn volleyball secures spot in Divisional Tournament

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The Big Horns celebrate their 3-1 win over Ennis on Saturday, Oct. 29. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

After missing “divisionals” in 2021, head coach Bailey Dowd believes this year’s team can play with anyone.

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER

By Julia Barton DIGITAL PRODUCER

CHURCHILL—From Thursday, Oct. 27 to Saturday, Oct. 29, the Lone Peak High School volleyball team competed in the District 12C Tournament at Manhattan Christian School. Lone Peak played five matches in three days, nearly fighting their way from the losers’ bracket to the championship in a double-elimination tournament.

Seeded fourth of 10, Lone Peak finished in third place after beating Ennis High School on Saturday afternoon. With their top-four finish, the Big Horns will advance to the Divisional Tournament alongside the district champion Manhattan Christian Eagles, the runner-up Twin Bridges Falcons, and the Ennis Mustangs, from whom the Big Horns stole the third seed. The last time the Big Horns reached divisionals was in 2020.

“It’s great to be going further into tournament play and making a run for it,” said head coach Bailey Dowd in a phone call with EBS. “Our seniors were a big part of the 2020 team. [Maddie] Cone, [Emily] Graham, [Jessie] Bough, I think it’s really important for them to finish their careers with a good playoff push on a strong team.”

Lone Peak will face off against Drummond High School on Thursday, Nov. 3 at 11 a.m. The top teams from divisionals will advance to the state tournament.

“As long as we play as a team and stay aggressive, we should be able to give any team a run for their money,” Dowd said. “We proved that this weekend by taking a set from Manhattan Christian. We were the only team to take a set against them. We have a chance against anyone.”

Coach Dowd also said it’s important for younger players to gain tournament experience.

“It adds that extra fire and grit of playoff volleyball that they might not have experienced before,” she said.

The road to the top four

Senior Maddie Cone attacks the ball against two Bruin blockers. PHOTO BY JULIA BARTON

The No. 4 Big Horns began postseason play on Oct. 27 with a matchup against the No. 5 Gardiner High School Bruins. Lone Peak came out slow in their first set, playing from behind until a serving run late in the game from Cone brought the score to 22-21, Bruins. The teams traded points, driving the final score above 25, where a team must win by a two-point margin. A kill by Junior Vera Grabow secured the 28-26 win for the Big Horns.

The following set was equally close with long rallies from both teams. Using an early-game lead, LPHS took the second set and led the match, 2-0. The third set saw some missed swings by Big Horn hitters and miscommunication on defense, allowing the Bruins to take the set win. LPHS came back with strong serving in the fourth set to beat Gardiner 25-21, winning their first district game 3-1 and advancing to face the top-ranked Manhattan Christian School.

The MCS Eagles—last year’s Class C state champions—came out strong, taking a commanding win in the first set. The second set was anybody’s game. The Big Horns tightened up their defense, swung hard and ultimately won the second set 25-22.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the girls for how they played that second set,” Dowd said after the match. “They really stepped up.”

Senior libero Jessie Bough dives after a ball against MCS. PHOTO BY JULIA BARTON

The Big Horns stayed close in the third set, and LPHS fans stomped in the bleachers when the Eagles missed a serve, leading 24-19. The Eagles still took the set win, and followed it up with a fourth-set victory for the 3-1 match win.

With one tournament loss on their record, the Big Horns moved into the loser’s bracket to face White Suplhur Springs High School. A win here would advance them to the District Tournament; A loss would end their season.

LPHS won the first set with ease, playing with confidence. Freshman Sadie Nordahl, who substitutes in specifically to serve, scored an ace to end the set 25-12. Set two was a bit closer, but a late-game serving run by Grabow clinched a 25-21 win.

Some missed serves by the Big Horns allowed the Hornets to hang close in the third set, but another ace from Nordahl ended the game 28-26, advancing LPHS to the tournament’s quarterfinal and securing their place in the Divisional Tournament.

Upset win over Ennis

The Big Horns and No. 3 Mustangs squared away in a losers’ bracket matchup at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The winner would face Twin Bridges in the semifinal and earn the third seed for divisionals.

The Big Horns opened the first set with a 15-4 lead after scoring nine consecutive points. Momentum swung to the Mustangs, who won 11 of the next 12 points and eventually tied the score at 19 apiece. The Big Horns were disorganized, and coach Dowd appeared frustrated after calling a timeout during the skid.

“It was really important for the girls to know that that could beat them, and they should beat them, and it doesn’t need to go five games,” Dowd said. “Momentum is everything.”

Tied at 24, the first game entered win-by-two territory. The Big Horns and Mustangs traded points until reaching 31, when senior Emily Graham stepped in to serve and the Big Horns finally scored twice for the win.

The Big Horns controlled the second set and relied on strong blocking to win 25-15.

Sophomore Claire Hoadley challenges two Mustang blockers. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

In the third set, the Big Horns seemed to lose focus. Poor communication allowed Mustang kills to fall easily in no-man’s-land, and the Mustangs showed signs of life with a few big spikes on their way to a 25-13 set win.

The fourth set was competitive throughout. The Big Horns turned a 4-4 tie into a 9-5 lead, but the Mustangs scored five straight to leapfrog into a 14-13 lead. With the score tied at 17, junior Ella Meredith scored on a block, and the Big Horns scored four of the next six points. Cone gave the Big Horns a 23-20 lead with a strong kill and did it again to punctuate a 25-23 win for the Big Horns, eliminating the Mustangs.

“[It was] packed with emotions, because we had already clinched divisionals the night before,” Dowd said. “Everything beyond that was icing on the cake, playing for seeding. Being able to have the first upset of the tournament by taking down Ennis was really important.”

Down to the wire against Twin Bridges

After the Falcons lost to Manhattan Christian, they descended into the losers’ bracket to face the Big Horns. The winner would play Manhattan Christian in the championship on Saturday afternoon.

“We went to four [games] with Ennis and had to really battle with that win,” coach Dowd said. “We knew it was going to be a long match against Twin [Bridges].”

The Falcons won a long, back-and-forth set to begin the match, 25-22.

Lone Peak dominated the second game, leading by 5 to 7 points for most of their way to a 25-15 victory, tying the match at one game apiece. After losing 3-1 in their last meeting during the regular season, the Big Horns stepped up to compete with Twin Bridges.

The Big Horns celebrate Jessie Bough’s ace against the Falcons. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

The Falcons looked sloppy early in the third set, falling behind 7-2. They fought back to tie the game at 10, but the Big Horns regained control and won the third set 25-16.

Lone Peak needed to win just one of the next two sets to eliminate Twin Bridges, but the Falcons answered with a 25-18 win.

“It’s the most we’ve ever asked the girls to play,” coach Dowd said. “It’s usually two matches per week with plenty of time to rest and recuperate. Being asked to play the three of the hardest games of their season, versus the three-seed [Ennis] and two-seed [Twin Bridges], back to back—it’s just tough, physically.”

Twin Bridges won the fifth and final set, 15-13, knocking off the Big Horns and advancing to the District 12C championship.

“We’re really evenly matched with Twin Bridges,” coach Dowd said. “It showed with the scores of those games, especially that fifth set ending at 15-13. Missing by two points is tough because we worked so hard to make the upset, and you know you could find two points somewhere. But the girls battled hard for every single point. They were as determined and competitive as I’ve ever seen them play.”

Coach Dowd said the Big Horns are peaking at the perfect time in the season and playing as a team.

“It’s what we’ve been working toward all season,” Dowd said. “They really gave it their all.”

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