By George Ferguson
For the second time this season, the Havre Blue Ponies and Chinook Sugarbeeters needed five games to decide the outcome in their two-match volleyball rivalry. On Thursday night, it was the host Beeters who came out on top by winning the decisive fifth game 15-12.
The Chinook victory means that for this season the Ponies and Beeters split their two matches. Havre defeated Chinook on Sept. 14 in Havre in five grueling games.
Thursday night's match in Chinook was very similar to the first meeting between these two schools. Chinook won the first game 25-21, and Havre answered back 25-20 in the second game. The Beeters took the third game 25-23 and the Ponies rebounded in the fourth 25-23, before the Beeters finally got the win in the fifth.
"It was a great match tonight," said Havre head coach Lacy Anderson. "I thought we played really well all night, but Chinook just played better."
"The girls played to their potential tonight and I was happy to see that," Anderson added.
Chinook head coach Jay Eslick shared Anderson's thoughts on the tightly contested affair.
"It was another tight match," Eslick said. "It wasn't pretty at times, but I thought Havre and us played very well and I'm just glad we got the win."
In the first game, the Ponies fell behind early as the Beeters built a commanding 18-8 lead behind solid serving and hitting from Jess Hollingsworth. The Ponies rallied back, though, with a seven point run to get within two at 21-19. But a couple of kills by Shaylan Haugen brought the Beeters to game point. Hollingsworth ended game one with an emphatic kill down the middle of the court.
Game two started out much the same way. The Ponies raced out to an early lead behind inspired hitting from Jeanna McPherson. The Ponies built an 18-10 lead, but the Beeters would rally just as Havre did in the previous game. A pair of McPherson kills helped the Ponies reach game point at 24-20. Kristi Owens gave Havre game two, by drilling a shot down the right sideline.
Game three was another close affair, but this time neither team grabbed a decisive lead. The biggest lead held by either team was three points. With the game tied at 22, Chinook junior middle hitter Whitney Lybeck ended a furious rally with a tip kill that gave the Beeters the lead for good. A Kayla Erskine kill finished off game three and put the Beeters one game away from victory.
With the Ponies facing a loss, McPherson came up big early in game four and gave Havre an early lead. However, Chinook managed to tie the game at seven. An Erskine kill turned the tide and Chinook went on a furious 10-2 run that seemed to give them the edge. But the Ponies raced back behind solid defense and timely hitting. With the match hanging in the balance, Heather Laprath took over. Down 23-21, Laprath had two straight kills and then two aces to bring the Ponies back and force a fifth game.
"Heather Laprath played so well tonight," Anderson said. "She was so aggressive and tenacious on defense. She really stepped up big for us."
In game five, the Beeters grabbed the early lead and never trailed in the game. Great serving from Hollingsworth and timely hitting from Haugen eventually finished the Ponies off 15-12.
"It was a great match on both sides of the net," Eslick said. "We just got some breaks in the fifth game, but you have to take your hat off to Havre, they are a real solid team."
The Beeters got great all around play from Hollingsworth, but Eslick likes what several other of his players did.
"(Brittany) Buhman and Haugen played really well at the net tonight," Eslick said. "And this was Kayla Erskine's first game back and she did some really nice things tonight as well."
The Ponies and Beeters were both without key players. The Beeters were missing senior defensive specialist Savannah Wendlen, while the Ponies were without the services of star outside hitter Sara Suek. Not having Suek played a key role, according to Anderson.
"Chinook is just so tough and aggressive and big," Anderson said. "Not having Sara in there really hurt at the net, but a lot of girls like Kacie Kitchens really stepped up and played great tonight in her place."
"Chinook played really well but I am happy with the way our girls played as well," Anderson added. "They played with intensity and enthusiasm and they played their hearts out. And in the end that is all I can ask of them."
Havre was led by McPherson, who finished with a game high 24 kills. Kitchens had a solid game for the Ponies with 29 digs. Hollingsworth, Erskine and Buhmann combined for 21 kills, while Holly Dennis added 28 digs and 14 assists.
The Ponies (4-3, 7-9 ) travel to Class AA Great Falls High on Saturday. The Beeters are home again tonight to face Plentywood and will visit Glasgow on Saturday.