The Choteau High School varsity volleyball team won the CHS Preseason Tournament on Saturday, putting together a close, 2-1, win over a talented Florence-Carlton co-op team that was missing two starters because of rolled ankles.
This week, Choteau has only one match in Fairfield on Sept. 5 with C, junior varsity and varsity matches set at 4:15, p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. The times outside of the 4:15 C squad time are only approximate because the JV and varsity matches will start 20 minutes after the previous match ends.
The Choteau girls will also play on the road Sept. 10 at Great Falls Central Catholic at 4:15 p.m., 5:45 p.m. and 7 p.m.
This is the first time Choteau has won their own preseason tournament since 2009, and speaks to how scrappy this group of girls is. They are also very young. Fourteen of the 20 girls playing are underclassmen.
Head coach Ann Funk on Sunday said these girls have a lot of energy, athleticism and “coachability.” They started practicing on Aug. 16 and have shown a willingness to learn and the discipline to work hard to master the skills they will need to compete in the Northern Division, District 1B with Fairfield, Conrad, Shelby, Cut Bank, Rocky Boy and, new this year, Great Falls Central Catholic.
The Choteau girls played 12 abbreviated matches in the three rounds of round robin play in the tournament. They lost just two: one to Florence-Carlton and one to the Three Forks Wolves.
At the end of the regular play, Choteau and Florence-Carlton were tied for first place, both with 10-2 records. Florence-Carlton won the tie-breaking statistic as the Western Montana girls had won 21 sets, compared to Choteau’s 19-set wins. That tie-breaker put Florence-Carlton in the first place spot and Choteau in second, setting the two up to play a three-set championship match: the first two sets to 25 by two and then the if-needed third in which the first team to 7 points (by any margin) would win the match.
The Choteau girls, playing without key senior middle hitter Nicole Krone, out with a knee injury, fell behind early in the first set against Florence-Carlton, but then battled back to win the that set in extra points, 27-25. Florence-Carlton battled back to win the second set, 25-21, and then the girls went to the quick tie-breaker.
Florence-Carlton won the coin toss to serve first and went up 1-0 on a Choteau hitting error. Ellie Lee pounded down a kill to give Choteau the serve at 1-1, and then scored a second point for her team with a big kill to give Choteau the 2-1 lead.
Florence-Carlton took back the serve on a second-hit tip and then took the lead, 4-2, scoring on an unreturned serve and a kill. Choteau’s Emma Gunderson crushed a kill to give Choteau the serve back and with Gunderson serving, Choteau tied the set, 4-4, on a kill by Sadie Grove.
The Choteau girls hit a kill attempt long and gave Florence-Carlton the lead back, 5-4. Lee came up big for Choteau again, putting down a kill and tying the game, 5-5.
Florence-Carlton put down another second-hit tip, to lead 6-5, but Choteau setter Christine Funk gave the FC girls a taste of their own medicine, putting down her own second hit tip for a kill to tie the set, 6-6. Funk rotated back to serve and Choteau won the set and the match, 7-6, on a FC net contact violation.
Choteau got great offensive play from Lee, Gunderson, Grove, Taylor Asselstine and Abby McCollom, plus solid defensive play across the back from libero Ada Bieler, Anna Stutz and Soren Cummings. Sophomore Ella Stott also rotated in to serve when Funk was playing across the back court.
In other final results from the tournament, Manhattan Christian, a Class C school, defeated Shelby, 25-16, 25-12, to finish in third, and Broadwater County High School (Townsend) defeated Three Forks, 26-24, 25-20, to finish in fifth place.
Other teams in the tournament were Ennis, Wolf Point, Bigfork, Cut Bank, Glasgow, Fairfield, Conrad, Simms and Thompson Falls.
Coach Funk said at one time, she had four different girls playing in positions Krone would have played all the way around the court. The younger girls “did an amazing job” of stepping up to fill Krone’s big shoes and of playing together — a key for any volleyball program. “They were excited. They were so positive with each other,” Funk said.
Funk said her starting lineup and position assignments are still a little soft, but in general she has Funk (who played libero her freshman and sophomore years on varsity) as the lead setter with assistance from Stott. Freshman Ada Bieler is playing libero. Choteau’s hitters include Lee, Gunderson, Grove, Asselstine, McCollom, Cummings and Asia Bouma, another freshman. Rotating in to serve and play the back row is Anna Stutz.
She said her offense is a work in progress, based on the skills of her young players.
Funk said she and assistant coach Carla May deeply appreciate all the support and help they receive from the school and community to put on this tournament. She noted that Bynum resident Vicki Baker, who has always done the computer tracking for the tournament, still helped remotely from Salt Lake City, Utah, where she is staying with her husband who suffered a serious spinal cord injury during a calving accident last February.
From people like that to all the helpers in the gym, the help with the hospitality room and the families who lodge the players, Funk said she doesn’t even have to worry about anything. Once the tournament starts, she said, the community takes over and does a great job.
Choteau’s matches against Fairfield are likely to be tough, Funk said, as the Lady Eagles are always up for a match with Choteau. With her young team, she said, she expects the girls to make mistakes based on inexperience, but they will learn and improve.
“People are going to see these young girls get better and better,” she said, adding, that her girls are very willing and able to learn. “That’s what I see already and that’s huge,” she said.
Choteau also had two teams, a C squad and a JV squad, in the 12-team, one-day sub-varsity scramble on Aug. 29. The teams played two sets to 25 or for 30 minutes, whichever parameter was reached first. Choteau’s junior varsity squad included Grove, Bouma, Cummings, Stutz, Amy McKenzie, Bellamy Beadle and Stott.
The C squad included Ella Peach, Josie Johnson, Ceanna Passmore, Maili Miller, Aly Wood, Ada Bieler and Katie Major.
The scramble was structured so that each team got five matches.