By Kim Staudinger
After a disappointing first-round loss to the eventual state champion Roundup Panthers, the Chinook Sugarbeeters found themselves fighting their way through the loser's bracket.
But the Beeters never- say-die attitude was never more apparent as they battled their way back to a fourth-place finish at the Class B State Volleyball Tournament in Missoula.
"Just playing Friday night was a big accomplishment for us," senior setter Kelsie Whitney said. "We were all really proud with how we did. We were really happy with how our season ended."
After the opening-match loss to Roundup, which has now won three straight state titles, Chinook faced Hi-Line foe Malta for the right to move on and stay alive at state. Having played Malta numerous times during the season and in the postseason, Whitney said, the Beeters were ready.
"We knew what (Malta) had. We knew we were the better team," she said. "We figured out what we needed to do to beat them. We played aggressively, hit the ball well and came out on top."
The match took five games for Chinook to eliminate the Mustangs from the tournament. Led by Susie Thackeray's 15 kills, Whitney's 24 digs and 36 assists, and 11 total team aces, Chinook defeated Malta 15-6, 9-15, 15-11, 5-15, 15-7.
Moving on after the Malta win, the Sugarbeeters were set to face the North/East divisional champion, Choteau, in another loser-out game Friday afternoon. Whitney said that after beating Choteau in a match at the divisional tournament, her team had a lot of confidence for Friday's match.
Even though it took five games, the confidence the Beeters possessed showed. They defeated the Bulldogs 15-12, 15-17, 8-15, 17-15, 15-9.
"Beating (Choteau) was a big goal of ours," Whitney said. "We just dug up what they hit at us and played smart. We made them make mistakes and kept our mistakes to a minimum."
Thackeray led with 17 kills and four blocks. Kayla Erskine had four blocks, and Miranda Sather led with 19 digs. Savannah Wendeln was a huge force for Chinook, serving up seven aces in five games.
"Choteau had beaten us a lot," Whitney said. "And to send them home and to send Malta home was nice."
Also in the Choteau match, senior Kelly Acra landed on the foot of a Choteau player who went under the net on a play and Acra sprained an ankle. The injury came on the first point of the fifth game. Acra was able to finish the match.
"She went and taped it up and came back," Whitney said. "She came back during the last rotation. She wanted to win that. She came in and played like nothing happened."
The Beeters met up with Troy in their third match of the day, with the loser finishing in fourth place.
Fatigue played a factor, Whitney said, as Chinook lost 15-7, 15-6, 15-13.
"(Troy) had big hitters, really big hitters," Whitney said. "And by that time, we had already played two matches that day that went to five games. Their hitting was just tough."
Despite the loss, Whitney said, her team was pleased with the fourth-place finish.
"Our team was proud to show that we not only came to state, but that we could play with the other teams at state," she said.
Also happy was Chinook head coach Paula Molyneaux.
"She was really happy with how we played, just the effort we gave every match," Whitney said. "She was happy that we were excited to play and not just to be at state, but excited to play."