By Kim Staudinger
The Chinook Sugarbeeters definitely know how to make things exciting and this weekend's North/East Class B Divisional Volleyball Tournament was no different.
The Sugarbeeters volleyball team escaped with a win Thursday afternoon over Cut Bank, and followed with another exciting win later that night against Malta.
Then Chinook met up with Choteau in the semifinals Friday night.
Chinook battled for a 15-12 win in the first game, but fell in the next three 15-6, 15-10, 15-13 to lose the match 3-1.
The loss sent the Sugarbeeters to the third-place game, where they met up with Malta. Chinook and rival Malta had faced each other during the regular season and had met up in the post season before. Chinook was the team responsible for ruining Malta's undefeated record at the district tournament the previous weekend.
Going in with confidence and with minds set on winning, Chinook once again beat Malta in four games. Chinook wavered throughout the match, struggling to get the elusive last points. But the Beeters prevailed 16-14, 10-15, 15-9, 16-14.
In what was a total team effort for the Sugarbeeters, Susie Thackeray led the team with 14 kills, Kelsie Whitney had six aces and 39 assists, Miranda Sather had 32 digs and Kayla Erskine had 4 stuff blocks.
Malta finished in third place, earning a trip to the state tournament next weekend in Missoula.
With the win, Chinook advanced to the championship game against Choteau. Both teams were guaranteed a trip to state, but the placing was left to be decided.
Since Choteau had already beaten Chinook, the Sugarbeeters would have had to win twice to claim the title. Making it exciting for all the fans in the gym, Chinook won the first championship match in four games, forcing a second championship match.
"They never did give up," Chinook head coach Paula Molyneaux said. "I was really pleased with them. They played hard like they have all season. They were pretty focused on what they wanted and they got it."
Scores from the first match were 15-11, 14-16, 15-13, 15-8.
The Beeters were led by Kelly Acra's 14 kills and four stuff blocks, Thackeray's 21 digs, Whitney's 48 assists and Brittany Buhmann's four stuff blocks. Jessica Hollingsworth and Tess Schuhmacher each added two aces in the win.
Then it was time for the Beeters' third game in a row, the second against Choteau. This time the Bulldogs jumped out early and won the title.
Choteau won the second match in three games with scores of 15-8, 15-2, 15-11.
"I think we ran out of gas a little bit in the last match." Molyneaux said. "It's always tough to get on the court and play three tough matches in a row, especially against a good team, and Choteau is a good team."
Knowing they were automatically going to state, Molyneaux said some of the pressure was off.
"We didn't have anything to lose at that point," she said. "We were going (to state). We had a trophy, so the pressure really wasn't on us."
Leaders for Chinook were Acra with 12 kills, Sather with 15 digs and Whitney with 37 assists.
The last time a Chinook volleyball team went to the state tournament was in 1996, Molyneaux said, meaning none of her current players have played in a state tournament before. But some of these girls have played at a state basketball tournament, which Molyneaux said she hopes helps when action begins Thursday.
"Basically, we're real excited (to go to state)," Molyneaux said. "It's always quite a deal to get to go to state."
Chinook faces Roundup, the two-time defending state champion, in the opening game of the tournament Thursday morning at 10.
"We hope to play the same way we have all season," Molyneaux said. "Mostly our goal is to go down and play our best and to go as far as we can go."