Havre Daily News Sports Writer
When the Northern C divisional volleyball tournament begins Thursday in Chinook, everybody will be chasing two teams - Chinook and Great Falls Central. The question is, can either of them be caught?
Chinook and Great Falls Central would appear to be on a collision course toward the finals of the tournament.
But in volleyball nothing is guaranteed.
“Volleyball is such a momentum sport,” Chinook head coach Doug Hayes said. “That's how you can play one game and win 25-12, and then turn around and lose 25-12 in the same match. Upsets can happen on any given night.”
The action will get under way on Thursday at 10 a.m. when top-seeded Great Falls Central takes on Valier, followed by Big Sandy versus Dutton-Brady. The afternoon session begins at 2 p.m. when Chinook will square off against Belt, with Highwood and Chester/J-I to follow.
Valier will be led in its match against Great Falls Central by Ashley Synder, who is coming off of a very solid performance in the District 6C tournament. The Panthers will need a big effort from her if they are to knock off the top-seeded Mustangs.
“Out of the 7C teams, Great Falls Central is probably the team to beat,” Hayes said. “They are a talented team.”
In order for the Big Sandy Pioneers to advance in the tournament, they are going to have to overcome a tough loss in the championship match of the District 6C tournament. After defeating Chinook in the semifinals, the Pioneers fell in consecutive matches to the Beeters to finish second at districts.
The Pioneers will need another stellar performance from Jessica Amsbaugh if they are going to advance deep into the tournament.
Another team from the 6C that should contend for a spot at the state tournament is Chester/J-I. The Hawks defeated Valier in the consolation match of the 6C tournament to qualify for the Northern C divisional, and will need continued contributions from Hannah Pimley and Shersteen Cline if they are to advance.
“Chester/J-I has a good shot to advance,” Hayes said. “So do Big Sandy and Valier, and don't count out Highwood, Belt or Dutton-Brady either, because all of those teams are really improved. It's going to be a real dogfight.”
Besides possibly having the best team in the tournament, Chinook will have the benefit of playing at home, which will no doubt give the Beeters an added boost.
“We will definitely have the home-court advantage,” Hayes said. “I like the idea of our team not having to travel and being able to sleep in our own beds. It will definitely help us.”
Georgia Barber and Crystal Roseberry lead the Beeters, but Hayes was quick to point out that his team doesn't rely on just one or two players.
“Georgia is a big hitter,” Hayes said. “But we have a lot of depth and lots of other tools. All year we have had lots of girls step up and hit the ball well, and if one girl isn't hitting the ball well, another will step up and pick up the slack.
“This team has really good balance and I have just been really impressed with all the kids,” he added.
Chinook may be viewed as the favorite, or the team to beat this weekend, but Hayes warns that his team cannot look ahead or be overconfident.
“We are definitely beatable just like everyone else,” Hayes said. “We need to come out every night and prove ourselves. We need to earn it each and every night.”
Another thing to look out for in this tournament will be how the two districts match up against each other head to head. The two districts squared off earlier in the season at the Chester Showcase, with the top four teams all being 6C teams. So it should be interesting to see, as the tournament progresses, how each district will fare in the head-to-head matchups.
The top two teams from the Northern C divisional will advance to the Class C state volleyball tournament in Bozeman.
The action kicks off at the Chinook High School gymnasium Thursday morning, and will run through the championship match, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday.