By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER
BIG SKY—It took less than 50 minutes for the Big Horns to take down the Bears in front of a lively homecoming crowd on Thursday afternoon at Lone Peak High School.
The Big Horns kept their effort high throughout their 3-0 victory over a depleted Lima roster with only six players and no substitutes. Some JV players earned playing time for the Big Horns, including Aubrey Farr for her debut, but it was the starting six that repeatedly dropped the hammer on the Bears.
“Our starting lineup did such a great job coming out strong,” said head coach Bailey Dowd after the contest. “And played with [enough] intention that we were able to get some of our JV players in with considerable playing time tonight, which is always good to see.”
Senior Emily Graham sang the national anthem and shared the court for a few points with her freshman sister Avery. She’s usually a JV player, but recently joined the varsity squad for her serving ability.
The Big Horns jumped to an 11-2 lead in the first game, establishing command early against Lima. Big Horn points came in bunches, allowing no more than two consecutive points on their way to a 25-8 win.
In the second game, the Big Horns kept the momentum going as the Bears struggled to communicate. With each ace, the Big Horns jumped together, shouting, “Ahhh, woosh!”
It wasn’t long before the student section caught on, adding energy to every point. After a seven-point run for the Big Horns brought the score to 16-5, the young crowd added another layer of home court advantage. As the server began her cadence, they would raise and lower their fists in the air with the sound of a loading gun. And when she struck the volleyball, they would shout, “Boom!”
“I think we needed a good win to bring the fun back into it after a couple tough weeks,” coach Dowd said. “I’m glad to see all the girls out there smiling, and we couldn’t have had a better crowd. That’s the most fired up I’ve seen this gym, and we’d welcome them back anytime.”
Big Sky students from Ophir Elementary to Lone Peak High were happy to attend the 2 p.m. game, leaving class early for the day. Many young students made signs to support friends on the court.
Leading the second game 21-8, senior team leaders Maddie Cone and Jessie Bough fed off the crowd’s energy to make a spectacular defensive play.
With the Big Horns stacked near the net, the Bears cleared the ball toward the Big Horns’ end line. Cone retreated, chasing the lofted ball, and made a one-handed, outstretched effort to keep the rally going. Her save made almost no forward progress and headed toward the Big Horn bench, where Bough chased it down and made her own one-handed save. Bough got the ball back toward the net, where a teammate returned it to the Bears. A few shots later, the Big Horns won the point and the gymnasium erupted in appreciation for the effort.
“I was like, ‘I’ll just hit it straight up in the air, and I know Jessie was there, because she’s talking to me the entire time,” Cone said after the match.
“We have good communication on those because we shank more balls than we should, but we’ll both talk to each other,” Bough added. “She’ll say, ‘I’m following you, I’m following you,’ so I know I can hit it back to her.”
They spoke together about their effort to keep pressure on, even with a comfortable lead.
“That’s definitely something we’ve improved on this year,” Bough said. “Last year we would kind of fall even with teams that we had a lot of cushion against. This year I think we’re trying to approach them with a more aggressive mindset.”
“Since we were beating them by a decent amount, we know we just have to keep on pushing and play aggressively so that when we play very competitive teams, we don’t give up on points,” Cone said.
The Big Horns won the second game 25-10, and repeated in the third game, winning 25-10 again to complete the 3-0 sweep of the Bears.
Coach Dowd said the Big Horns are still eligible for playoff contention but will face stiff competition in the next two weeks. Their opponents will be Shields Valley, White Sulphur, Twin Bridges, and Ennis.
“I think if we play the way we did tonight, with that fire and that energy, we can beat all four of the teams that we have coming up,” she said. “I’m excited for our push into playoffs.”
Cone and Bough explained that every team earns a spot in the district tournament, but these upcoming games will determine seeding. Only three teams will move on to the divisional tournament from the district round.
“We will have to beat two of those four teams to move on,” Cone said.