Havre Daily News Sports Editor
Officially, the 2005 Montana high school volleyball season got under way last weekend with a handful of teams playing some matches.
However, the season really picks up this weekend as most areas team will be playing plenty of games and matches in local tournaments.
In Chinook, the 23rd annual Chinook Invitational volleyball tournament starts Friday at 10 a.m. The tournament will feature the host Beeters along with top teams from Class B and C.
Chinook, in its first year of Class C, will be joined by District 6C cohorts Chester/J-I and Valier along with Stanford.
Perennial powers Malta, Cut Bank and Glasgow head the list of Class B schools. They will be joined by Harlem, Conrad, Shelby, Fairfield and Wolf Point.
The Sugarbeeters were solid in their first matches as a Class C school and appear to be one of the favorites in the 6C.
But head coach Doug Hayes made it very clear before the season that his team would be taking nothing for granted.
"You never want to underestimate any team," Hayes said. "It doesn't matter what their classification is. We want to go in confident, but not overconfident."
The Beeters have plenty to be confident about this season with several returning players who are loaded with talent.
Senior outside hitter Georgia Barber and setter Crystal Roseberry have looked solid early. Barber is an explosive athlete who must produce more consistently than a year ago. Roseberry has good hands and is quick enough to get to most passes.
"We are definitely hoping that Georgia can provide us with some presence on offense," Hayes said. "She has the potential to be a force."
Also contributing are fellow seniors Kassie Dugan and Morgan Obie. Dugan is the Beeters' tallest player at 5-10. She will take over the middle for graduated all-stater Whitney Lybeck. Obie will play all the way around the rotation and can contribute from any spot on the floor.
However, the Beeters will have plenty of competition for the District 6C title. The defending champion Chester Coyotes are back with a different name. Thanks to school consolidation with Joplin-Inverness, the new squad will be known as the Chester/J-I Hi-Line Hawks.
Whatever the name, the team is still solid, losing only one player from last year. That one player was the best in the 6C in all-stater Shawnee Norick. However, second-year head coach Joni Gordon believes she's found someone to try and offset the loss of Norick in transfer Hannah Pimley.
A year ago, Pimley was earning all-conference honors for Blue Sky/J-I. But with the consolidation, she is now a Hi-Line Hawk.
"Shawnee was a big part of our team," Gordon said. "But I think Hannah will fit in her spot nicely. Shawnee led the conference last year in all-conference voting, but Hannah was third. She does a great job offensively and defensively at the net."
But the talent and experience don't end there. Also returning are senior starters Brianne Wolfe, Amanda Violett, JoAnna LaSorte, Keyla Briese and junior Jackie Alisch.
Wolfe may be one of the best defensive players in 6C. She is a tremendous blocker at the net and is also a solid passer. Offensively, she progressed throughout last season and should be a factor this season.
LaSorte and Briese share the setting duties, but both are versatile enough to be factors as hitters as well. Violett is a defensive specialist, while Alisch may be the most improved team member.
"Jackie has developed a jump serve that should be really effective," Gordon said. "She is also coming on strong at the net."
Besides Chinook, Valier is also joining District 6C and will push for the title behind all-state hitter Aisha Snider.
"She is tough," Gordon said. "She makes them a good team by herself."
Over in Rudyard and Gildford, the remainder of the District 6C teams will be competing in the new North Star Showcase tournament.
The tournament is a product of the school consolidation in the conference as Blue Sky and KG combined to form the North Star Knights. It will feature the host Knights, Big Sandy, Rocky Boy, Box Elder, Hays-Lodge Pole, Sunburst, Chester/J-I JV, Sunburst JV and Geraldine.
Games will be held in both the Rudyard and Gildford gyms and action with pool play taking place Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Single elimination play will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Both Big Sandy and North Star have 6C title aspirations. A year ago, the Pioneers were the surprise of 6C, finishing third in the regular season and third at the Northern C Divisional - the best out of the four 6C teams competing.
However, Big Sandy head coach Sherry Roth isn't quite sure if opponents believe the Pioneers are for real yet.
"I think there are still a few teams that are overlooking us," Roth said. "Some people think how we finished at divisionals was kind of a fluke. But we know if we play consistent volleyball, we should be back there again."
Big Sandy certainly has enough returning talent from last year to do that. All-conference setter Kacy Herron is back to lead the offense.
"Kacy is just a steady player," Roth said. "She's a solid setter and is probably our most consistent player for us."
She has plenty of weapons to set to in hitters Naomi Williams and Shalayna Pearson.
"Naomi needs to be a little more consistent for us this year," Roth said. "She's a great all-around player, but we need her to play well every night.
"I am expecting big things from Shalayna. She came into practice this year looking really good and she should be a tough player around the net for us."
Big Sandy also returns junior Jessica Amsbaugh, who was effective last year, while KG transfer Kate Vosen will also contribute.
Even though the two teams combined, there were losses from both. Blue Sky lost a pair of all-conference players in Kaila Warren and Pimley. Also gone is some height in Kim Patrick.
Still, the Knights have plenty of players out for the squad this season. Leading the way is setter Megan Warren and middle blocker Tasha Dyrland.
Warren did a little bit of everything for Blue Sky last season, while Dyrland at 5-10 was an imposing presence at the net for KG. The duo is joined by solid players in Tiarelle Warren, Courtney Wendland, Jourdon Han, Angel Grant and Kendra Donoven.
There is talent there for new head coach Lisa Criswell.
"Megan has got the physical ability to be a good setter," Criswell said. "She's very quick and capable of covering a lot of ground on the court.
"We've got some pretty good height. I'm very excited about our hitters. Our offense should give them plenty of opportunities to pick up kills."
The big job is trying to mesh all the new faces and the two teams into one.
"We're going to try some different combinations early on," Criswell said. "I think we will gel as a team fairly quickly."
Elsewhere, Rocky Boy should be solid with the return of Rainbow Stump and twins Tori and Loni Belcourt. The Sunburst Refiners always put a good team on the floor with players like Angela Tomscheck, Rachel Schulz, Kendra Hovland and Kallie Johannsen.
Meanwhile, Box Elder and Hays-Lodge Pole are in transition years and trying to build teams.
So where does that leave teams in the district? One thing is for certain, there will very few free wins in the 6C this season. Teams will be tested on most nights. It's something that every coach seems to want.
"I think our kids are looking forward to some tough regular season matches," Gordon said. "It will only make us better at the end. We can go into tournament time battle-tested and ready to compete."
Said Roth: "We'd much rather play tough teams throughout the season. It's better for the girls to play good competition. It helps them improve so much more."
10 a.m. - Chinook vs. Harlem
10:40 a.m. - Cut Bank vs. Glasgow
11:20 a.m. - Conrad vs. Chester
Noon - Chinook vs. Cut Bank
12:40 p.m. - Conrad vs. Harlem
1:20 p.m. - Chester vs. Glasgow
2 p.m. - Chinook vs. Conrad
3:20 p.m. - Glasgow vs. Harlem
4 p.m. - Chinook vs. Chester
4:40 p.m. - Glasgow vs. Conrad
5:20 p.m. - Harlem vs. Cut Bank
6 p.m. - Chinook vs. Glasgow
6:40 p.m. - Harlem vs. Chester
7:20 p.m. - Cut Bank vs. Conrad
10 a.m. - Malta vs. Wolf Point
10:40 a.m. - Valier vs. Stanford
11:20 a.m. - Fairfield vs. Shelby
Noon - Malta vs. Valier
12:40 p.m. - Fairfield vs. Wolf Point
1:20 p.m. - Shelby vs. Stanford
2 p.m. - Malta vs. Fairfield
2:40 p.m. - Shelby vs. Valier
3:20 p.m. - Stanford vs. Wolf Point
4 p.m. - Malta vs. Shelby
4:40 p.m. - Stanford vs. Fairfield
5:20 p.m. - Wolf Point vs. Valier
6 p.m. - Malta vs. Stanford
6:40 p.m. - Wolf Point vs. Shelby
7:20 p.m. - Valier vs. Fairfield
North Star Showcase
3 p.m. - Box Elder vs. Rocky Boy
4 p.m. - North Star vs. Sunburst
5 p.m. - Chester/J-I JV vs. Box Elder
6 p.m. - Rocky Boy vs. North Star
7 p.m. - Sunburst vs. Chester/J-I JV
3 p.m. - North Star JV vs. Sunburst JV
4 p.m. - Big Sandy vs. Hays-Lodge Pole
5 p.m. - Geraldine vs. North Star
6 p.m. - Sunburst JV vs. Big Sandy
7 p.m. - Hays-Lodge Pole vs. Geraldine
8 a.m. - Box Elder vs. North Star
9 a.m. - Rocky Boy vs. Chester/J-I
10 a.m. - Sunburst vs. Box Elder
11 a.m. - North Star vs. Chester/J-I
Noon - Rocky Boy vs. Sunburst
2 p.m. - start of single elimination play.
8 a.m. - North Star JV vs. Big Sandy
9 a.m. - Sunburst JV vs. Geraldine
10 a.m. - Hays-Lodge Pole vs. North Star JV
11 a.m. - Big Sandy vs. Geraldine
Noon - Sunburst JV vs. Hays-Lodge Pole
2 p.m. - start of single elimination play