By Tiffany L. Rehbein
Once upon a time, a young assistant coach, during pool play at a tournament, wrote in the name of the "winning" team before the match was complete.
That team lost.
The young assistant was banished, for she had jinxed the team. She had made the prediction before the match was over. She had cursed them forever.
So the assistant went off to find the winning way, wondering about the role of luck in volleyball.
She pondered crystals, and lucky pennies, and angels, and clothes.
What are the connections between volleyball and superstitions, she wondered.
Her first stop was at Livingston, for that was where her exile began.
"I've just played enough volleyball in my life to know you cannot predict anything that is going to happen," Livingston head coach Jan Toth said.
Toth had played for the 1986 state championship Whitefish Bulldogs. She was also a member of the Northern Skylights national championship team early last decade.
"I'm not superstitious, I just go there knowing what I have to do to win," Toth said. "I've played so much volleyball that I know what it takes to win. There's no rabbit's foot that is going to win the game. If you're not mentally ready, you're not going to win."
Feeling little better, the young assistant aimed east on her travels.
She stopped at Hardin, looking for some luck.
"I never take a nap during tournament time," Hardin head coach Laura Sundheim said.
Seeking wisdom from the state experienced, the young assistant listened intently.
During the 1993-94 state championships that Hardin claimed, Sundheim wore the same shirt, she said.
"It was wearing thin after awhile," Sundheim said. "It had a hole in one of the shoulders, and I think I actually threw it away."
Still finding no solace as to her banishment, the assistant found Colstrip.
The Fillies knew how to win, but had little advice as to how she had jinxed the team, so she headed west.
The key to win, must be the chants, she learned at Corvallis.
"We say the same exact thing in the locker room," Corvallis head coach Jim Striebel said.
The Blue Devils celebrate when they leave the locker room, yell "Dominate" right before the start of the game, and yell "Win, win, win" just before the match begins.
And the Blue Devils even try to jinx the opponent.
"At divisional, as I was walking outside of our hotel, a black cat walked right in front of the Whitefish team. We are expecting that black cat to pay off for us," Striebel said.
Whitefish placed first at divisional, but suffered a first-round loss at state. It was just its second loss of the season.
During each starting lineup, the Corvallis girls hit right knuckles and click right ankles after their names are called.
It must all be in the rhythm, the young assistant thought.
Feeling like she could return home with an answer to winning, the assistant went north.
She toured the beautiful town of Bigfork and came across head coach Mary Kay Hovland-Burrington.
"What is the key?" she asked.
Well, Hovland-Burrington was intrigued, but gave just one example.
Earlier in the season, the Vals would say the Lord's Prayer together and they would start or end with the words "Take care of the girls on the court."
Once, they did not say it.
During that match, their setter went out with a twisted ankle, something from which she just recently recovered.
Mystified, north the assistant continued, searching for home, when she met Jackie Fuller at Whitefish.
It's the pocket angel in the right pocket and the three pieces of Mintburst gum in the left pocket, Fuller said.
"I only wear clothes that I have won in and I never go and purchase a new outfit," Fuller said.
Fuller's bench is always seated the same way during each match her girls, herself, the junior varsity coach, and the freshman coach, Fuller said.
The Bulldogs also have a special handshake and ankle kick.
Full of wonder and excited to tell her boss about all the new tricks that she had learned, the young assistant left the mountains and traveled until she came upon Havre.
She shared the wonderful secrets and wisdom she had gained as to the key to winning at volleyball.
Then Bill Huebsch, Havre's head coach, filled her in on his winning way.
"I always have to have my hair cut before we go to a big tournament," Huebsch said.
Huebsch had his hair trimmed the week that the Blue Ponies played at Livingston, their last conference match of the season.
The Ponies won the match, sealed first place, and went on to take first at the Windy City Classic the next day.
However, the following week, Central A divisional week, Huebsch did not get his hair trimmed.
The Blue Ponies lost on the opening day and finished second at the tournament.
Huebsch also carries two crystals in his pocket although it started as one when the Blue Ponies won the state championship in 1997, it became two in 1998. And the Ponies won again.
His daughter Madison's picture is on the clipboard and he no longer had a goatee.
For eight seasons, Huebsch has had a goatee during volleyball.
But the Blue Ponies started the season on a rocky note and he shaved it.
"It was bad luck," Huebsch said.
The Ponies went on to win 9-of-10 matches and they took first at the Windy City Classic.
Lewistown's Sterling Sundheim had more realistic advice.
"Bill made some offensive adjustments, that is why they started to come together," Sundheim said.
All these coaches and teams can be seen at Havre High School this weekend at the State Class A tournament.