Big Horns fall to White Sulphur Springs in three games
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY –After a season of ups and downs, the Lone Peak High School varsity volleyball team took their own court for the last home match of 2021 against the White Sulphur Springs Hornets. In a touching celebration that brought several in the gym to tears, the home team recognized sole senior TJ Nordahl before she stepped on the Big Horn hardwood for the last time in her career.
Nordahl was escorted onto the court by her parents as her teammates, including her younger sister, read prepared statements thanking her for her mentorship. “TJ has played an influential role on the Lone Peak Big Horns volleyball team over the past four years,” said teammate Maddie Cone. “Not only has she helped lead our team to success but has shown us how to be the best versions of ourselves, on and off the court.”
Nordahl’s father, Steve, wiped away her tears before she shared a tight embrace with her team ahead of the first serve.
LPHS Junior defensive specialist Haley Houghteling took the place of absent setter Emily Graham after just one practice to learn the rotation and position. The Big Horns struggled to find the rhythm they’d built over the course of a monthslong season, while the Hornets, though lacking the spread of talent Lone Peak boasts, consistently fed the ball to big front row players.
The setter position, essentially the quarterback of the volleyball court, is a tough position to lose, said LPHS Head Coach Ellen Wolferman. “That’s who’s running the entire court, that’s who’s making plays, that’s who’s calling everything,” she said.
The Hornets took control of the first game, scoring eight quick points to the Big Horns’ two, both cross-court kills by junior left-side hitter Cone that split the Hornets’ block.
Lone Peak showed moments of promise with strong defensive plays at the net by sophomore middle blocker Ella Meredith and freshman right-side hitter Claire Hoadley, paired with consistent digs by junior libero Jessie Bough, helping them inch to within six points of White Sulphur Springs, 9-15.
Nordahl kept the Big Horns competitive with her signature dump to the far-right corner of the Hornets’ 10-foot line, but the Hornets kept their control, winning the first game 25-18.
Though White Sulphur Springs started game two with another big lead, Lone Peak stepped on the court with more fight. The Hornets 6-foot-2-inch freshman middle blocker Natalie Fisher put up a big block, challenging the Big Horns’ front row before sophomore left-side hitter Vera Grabow found a steady cross-court shot that kept the Big Horns’ offense alive. Cone’s powerful kills brought the energy up in the gym.
The Big Horns tied the game at 21, but the Hornets’ senior left-side hitter Cabry Taylor picked up a few kills to defeat the Big Horns 25-21.
In game three, Lone Peak refused to let White Sulphur gain the same early-game lead. Cone and Taylor traded kills for points, but errors on the Big Horns’ side of the court robbed them of momentum as the Hornets picked apart their defense with kills hitting short at the 10-foot line. The Hornets won the third game 25-12.
Wolferman said the girls made the best of an evening despite being down a player.
“I think Haley did a really good job being just absolutely thrown into that role,” she said. “It’s not easy shoes to fill.”
Though her last game ended in a loss, Nordahl stood smiling in front of a photo board signed with notes from her peers.
“It was definitely hard to lose,” she said, “but I think we fought really hard … We all worked really well together so it was a good game to end on.”
As a 5-foot-5-inch middle blocker, Nordahl learned to outsmart the often-taller opponents she faces at the net. “I had a lot of time on the court and I definitely improved a lot,” she said. “It’s sad to leave. It was a very emotional night.”
Wolferman recognized Nordahl for her “spice,” on and off the court. “She’s a fighter,” Wolferman said after the match. “She fights for every single point, she fights to be on the court. She stays after every practice to get more reps in. She works so hard and losing her is a tough loss.”
The Big Horns’ JV team on their end earned a win against the Hornets in four games, executing strong play that seemed a distant dream early in the season.
The Big Horns varsity girls with a record of 5-6,will play their final regular season game away on Oct. 19 against West Yellowstone before post-season tournaments begin.