By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Coach Bill Huebschs note to self might have read Remember two things when you leave Casper. A. An emblazoned black and gold-trimmed trophy. B. A windfall of experience.
If it had, then both were checked off when the Havre High School volleyball team returned from the Casper International Volleyball Festival with a fourth place trophy and the experience.
The experience itself was great, Huebsch said. It was an honor to be asked to go down.
Havre competed against other state championship teams from Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska and a team from Jin Cai High School in Shangai, China.
The Blue Ponies themselves, arguably the top volleyball team in Montana, have brought home back-to-back state championship titles. They went 10-0 in conference play last season and 29-2 overall. Another stellar highlight of its season came when they beat state Class AA champion C.M. Russell High School at Great Falls.
The girls are used to winning, Huebsch said. I hope that they remember the entire experience of playing in the tournament, not just the fourth place finish.
Havre, with 764 kids, had the second smallest enrollment of the eight schools competing at the tournament. The average enrollment of the schools at the tournament was about 1,800 students. Cherry Creek High School at Englewood, Colo., had 3,400 enrolled students.
The Blue Ponies were also the smallest size-wise.
We definitely had the smallest kids, hands down, Huebsch said.
But with that fact, Huebsch said Havre was the best passing team down there next to China, who won the tournament.
It was fast-paced, Huebsch said. They were a lot bigger teams and they did a lot more things offensively that we just dont normally face.
The girls saw more foreign things than simply different offenses. The Events Center at Casper, where the matches were held, was large enough to place four volleyball courts side-by-side, running the width of the floor.
The courts were not sliced gym floor parts. They played on a composite material and the only lines on the court were volleyball lines. There were no three-point arcs or badminton courts to compete for floor space.
They also saw a Chinese team who was so courteous that when Tiffany Shrauger took a spike off her forehead she received an apology from her opponent. The players also had the opportunity to exchange gifts with the Chinese.
The volleyball players also had the chance to watch the U.S. Junior National Team practice on Tuesday morning. They also had a photo opportunity with the team and the girls received autographs.
Those kids just hadnt seen that kind of volleyball before, Huebsch said. What they saw was Logan Tom, the most highly recruited volleyball player in the nation, spike the ball so hard it would bounce once within the 10-foot line and scream into the seats.
I had never seen a woman hit a ball that hard before, Huebsch said.
The Blue Ponies played 40 games in three days at Casper. In playing 14 round robin games on Friday, the girls finished 7-7. They also went 7-7 in the next section of play which placed them in the fourth seed out of eight teams going into the championship.
It also notched them second in their pool.
Our goal was to finish in the top two in pool play, Huebsch said. We accomplished that goal. We made the championship tourney.
In the tournament, Havre fell to Belvue West, 15-8, 15-3. That Nebraska team finished second at the tournament. Havre then fell to Natrona High School, 15-3, 15-0. Havre had split with Natrona the previous four matches.
It was just a great experience, Huebsch said. We got that many more touches in live game situation.
Huebsch also said the local business support at Havre was great in the way they stepped forward in supporting the team through fund raisers and car washes as they traveled to Billings for the Big Sky State Games and to Casper for the Festval Tournament.
It all starts here, Huebsch said.