The Choteau High School Lady Bulldogs brought home the third-place trophy from the state Class B volleyball tournament Nov. 12-14 in Shelby, ending their season with a 25-3 record, and their only losses to the defending Class C and B state champions, Manhattan Christian and Huntley Project, respectively.
The third-place trophy was bittersweet for Coach Ann Funk’s senior-heavy team, as they came so very close to besting Huntley Project, losing a five-set nail-biter, and missing the chance to play Joliet for the state championship. Joliet defeated Huntley in straight sets to win the state championship, bringing home the first-place trophy for the first time in the J-Hawks’ school history.
“It was a great state tournament,” Coach Ann Funk said Sunday. “These kids fought hard, and they gave it their best shot.”
Funk said she and assistant coach Carla May will miss this year’s seniors: Ellie Lee, a powerful middle hitter; Christine Funk, setter; Anna Stutz, defensive specialist; Abby McCollom, defensive specialist and outside hitter; Soren Cummings, libero; and manager Audrey Hutton.
“It’s going to be hard to see our seniors go,” Funk said, adding that Hutton, McCollom and Funk played for the coaches since fifth grade while Lee, Stutz and Cummings joined the program in sixth grade.
“They all brought special things to the team that made us who we were,” the coach said.
Stutz, Cummings and McCollom all had big serving and digging plays in the state tournament while Funk ran the team’s offense, and Lee’s lightning-fast kills and big blocks were keys in the girls’ three wins against Thompson Falls (third from the West), Anaconda (first from the West) and Colstrip (third from the East).
As hard as it is to say goodbye to these seniors, Choteau’s varsity team also has a number of talented younger girls who now have state tournament experience to bring back to next year’s volleyball season, including sophomores Ada Bieler, a middle hitter who plays all the way around, middle-hitter Asia Bouma and Ella Peach; juniors, setter Ella Stott, outside hitters Emma Gunderson, Sadie Grove, Bellamy Beadle and Josie Johnson, defensive specialist Katie Major and middle hitter Taylor Asselstine.
“We have a great group of young girls returning,” Funk said.
In the state tournament, Choteau opened with a three-set win over Thompson Falls, 25-18, 25-16, 25-19, in the opening round. In the second round, they fell to Huntley Project, 23-25, 18-25, 6-25. Facing loser-out pressure, the Choteau girls defeated Anaconda, 25-16, 25-18, 25-12, and then downed Colstrip, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-16, to advance to meet Huntley Project a second time.
In this meeting, Choteau’s girls won the first set, 25-20, then lost the second, 14-25, won the third, 25-20, lost the fourth, 26-28, and then lost the fifth set, 12-15.
In the first match with Thompson Falls, Choteau’s girls played their brand of volleyball with a very quick offense and solid floor coverage that allowed Choteau to get the win. In the first set, Choteau earned sideout on a kill by McCollom and Gunderson rotated back to serve and then served out the set as Choteau scored on a T-Falls hitting error, an unreturned serve, a block by Bieler and Asselstine, a kill by Funk and a kill by Asselstine, to take the set, 25-18.
Funk said the girls were excited to start the state tournament out with a solid win and were looking forward to playing Huntley.
In their first meeting of the season, Huntley flexed its muscles and outlasted Choteau, 25-23, in the first set, and then dominated in the next two. Funk said the Choteau girls did a great job of blocking in the first set, but Huntley adjusted and started hitting over the blockers in the second and third sets, raining down kills in the back row. “It was very tough,” the coach said, adding that the score doesn’t show it, but Choteau’s girls played well in the match. They just couldn’t get their kills to go down against Huntley’s defense.
The next day, Choteau’s girls came ready to play Anaconda. They had good ball handling, serving, passing, serve-receiving and attacking the ball. They played well at the net and used their wicked serving to take Anaconda’s players out of system, crippling their offense.
Choteau led throughout and scored on multiple Anaconda errors. The Choteau girls won the first set, 25-16, with Cummings getting a rare kill for the final point; in the second set, they closed out the win with McCollom serving and Lee pounding down a kill; and in the third set, Asselstine scored the last point with a big kill. In this set, Funk rolled her ankle and Stott came in to finish the set and match.
Funk and Gunderson, who had rolled her ankle earlier in the tournament, both played the rest of the tournament with wrapped ankles.
After defeating Anaconda, the Choteau girls had to stay in a classroom at the Shelby High School, waiting for their next match with Colstrip. Coach Funk said they watched the Huntley-Joliet semifinal and rested. Their match with Colstrip, slated to start at 8 p.m., didn’t get started until 8:45 p.m.
Funk said the girls went onto the court playing to win.
“That is just the type of kids that they are,” she said. “You could see against Colstrip, for the first time, that they just truly were not going to be defeated.”
Colstrip took the first set, 25-23. In the second set, Choteau pulled ahead early but Colstrip tied the set at 18-18 on an ace and then took the lead, 19-18, on a Choteau hitting error. The set was tied again at 19-19 and then 21-21, when Bieler pounded down a kill to give Choteau the lead, 22-21, and then repeated to put Choteau up 23-21. Colstrip scored another point on a Choteau service error, trailing 22-23, and then missed the court on a kill attempt, to give Choteau sideout at 24-23. The Choteau girls won the set, 25-22, on another Colstrip hitting error.
With the match tied at one set each, Choteau romped out to a 25-18 win in the third set. In the fourth set, the girls fell behind early, going down, 0-4, before Lee landed a kill to score Choteau’s first point. Colstrip kept rolling, though, and led 7-1, before Choteau began getting back into the set, going on a run with Funk serving and then another with Cummings serving. Asselstine came up with a big kill to give Choteau sideout, down, 6-9. Cummings came in to serve and the Choteau girls scored on a big block by Asselstine, a Colstrip hitting error, and then tied it, 9-9, on a net-skimming ace. They took the lead, 10-9, on a McCollom kill and Colstrip called a time out.
The Choteau girls stayed in control after the timeout, and scored again on another hitting error and on an Asselstine kill to lead, 11-9, and never let Colstrip lead again. Lee scored the last two points of the set and match on big kills.
Funk said Choteau’s girls did a great job after the initial loss to Huntley, on adjusting to the level of play necessary for winning at state. “We hit more line shots this weekend than we did all season,” she said. “They did an amazing job.”
The Choteau girls didn’t get home until midnight and were on the bus at 8 a.m. Saturday to head back to Shelby to play Huntley Project for the second time.
In their final match of the season, Choteau’s girls came out strong against Huntley, and took the first set from the Red Devils, 25-20. Funk said she believes this is the first time since she’s been coach and maybe ever that Choteau took even a set away from a Huntley team.
The second set belonged to Huntley as the Red Devils did a good job of getting around Choteau’s block and placing kills in the back court corners for a 25-14 win.
In the third set, Choteau tied the score at 4-4, 5-5, then fell behind. Bieler put down a kill to give Choteau sideout at 8-10, then rotated back to serve and Choteau went on a point run, scoring on two hitting errors and a Lee kill to lead, 11-10. The score was tied again three more times, when Lee put down a kill to give Choteau the lead, 14-13, and with Cummings serving, Choteau scored on an Asselstine/McCollom block, a hitting error, an unreturned serve and an ace to go up, 18-13. Choteau led for the rest of the set, scoring the final points on a kill by Lee and a service error.
At one point in this match, Bieler got drilled in the face by a ball and had to go out briefly with a bloody nose, but came back in and finished out the match with tissue stopping the blood flow.
Up, two sets to one, Choteau again fell behind early, 0-5, in the fourth set, but fought back. Down three, Choteau got the sideout back on a kill by Lee, 22-24, and then scored twice to tie it, 24-24, on another Lee kill and a Gunderson kill. The set was tied again at 25-25 and then Choteau went up, 26-25, on a Gunderson kill.
Huntley tied it, 26-26, on a service error, and won the set, 28-26, scoring on an out-of-bounds Choteau block and on a four-hits call.
In the fifth and final set, Choteau romped out to a 10-5 lead before Huntley surged back, and went on a seven-point run, to take the lead, 12-10, scoring on five deep kills to the back court, a block and a Choteau hitting error. Bieler stopped the rally with a kill of her own and then tied the score, 12-12, with another big kill.
Huntley Project called a timeout, and when the girls returned to the court, the Red Devils won the set and the match, scoring their final points on three Choteau hitting errors.
Coach Funk said the Huntley girls had to play as hard as they could to beat Choteau, and the Choteau girls played as hard as they could to try to come up with the win. When Choteau was done with that match, Funk said, she knew there was no way Joliet wasn’t going to win the title.
The last time a Choteau volleyball team brought home a state trophy was in 2012, when the Lady Bulldogs also finished in third.
State Class B Tournament
Choteau def. Thompson Falls,
25-17, 25-16, 25-19
Choteau leaders — Aces 6 (Soren Cummings 3, Anna Stutz 2); kills 32 (Emma Gunderson 10, Ellie Lee 8, Ada Bieler 7); Assists 26 (Christine Funk 23, Emma Gunderson 3); blocks 11 (Ellie Lee 5, Ada Bieler 3, Christine Funk 2); digs 59 (Cummings 13, Funk 13, Bieler 12).
Thompson Falls leaders — Aces 2 (Danni Van Huss 1, Riley Wilson 1); kills 22 (Scarlette Schwindt 9, Judy Detlaff 4, Van Huss 4); assists 21 (Schwindt 10, Wilson 9); blocks 9 (Detlaff 3); digs 52 (Schwindt 14, Ariana Wood 12).
Huntley Project def. Choteau,
25-23, 25-18, 25-6
Choteau leaders — Aces 4 (Anna Stutz 2); kills 26 (Emma Gunderson 9, Ellie Lee 7, Ada Bieler 6); assists 21 (Christine Funk 19); blocks 13 (Bieler 4, Lee 4); digs 41 (Gunderson 9, Funk 8, Soren Cummings 6).
Huntley Project leaders — Aces 7 (Greta Peterson 2); kills 44 (Josee Krum 14, Josie Halser 14, Cearra Oblander 8); assists 39 (Macee Murphy 38); digs 94 (Hasler 25, Kirra Ban 15, Murphy 13); blocks 8 (Krum 2, Peterson 2).
Choteau def. Anaconda,
25-16, 25-18, 25-12
Choteau leaders — Aces 9 (Soren Cummings 3, Ada Bieler 2, Anna Stutz 2); kills 29 (Emma Gunderson 9, Bieler 8); assists 20 (Chris Funk 13, Gunderson 4); blocks 6 (Ellie Lee 4); digs 58 (Gunderson 12, Abby McCollom 10).
Anaconda leaders — Aces 3 (Malia Harris 1, Tiora Ferguson 1, Megan Reich 1); kills 16 (Briana Puyear 7, Aubrey Tuss 6, Mia Sullivan Sanders 2); assists 13 (Ferguson 11, Makena Patrick 2); blocks 8 (Maniyah Lunceford 4, Tuss 3); digs 53 (Harris 19, Tuss 18, Reich 10).
Choteau def. Colstrip
23-25, 25-22, 25-18, 25-16
Choteau leaders — Aces 9 (Emma Gunderson 4, Soren Cummings 2); kills 42 (Ellie Lee 12, Ada Bieler 8); assists 32 (Christine Funk 28, Gunderson 4); blocks 8 (Lee 5, Asselstine 2); digs 113 (Anna Stutz 22, Bieler 21, Abby McCollom 17).
Colstrip leaders — Aces 2 (Addie Casterline 1, Ashtynn Egan 1); kills 43 (Casterline 16, Abby Baer 9); assists 36 (Baer 24, Baily Egan 10); blocks 13 (Casterline 5); digs 133 (B. Egan 42, Addi Pontius 39).
Huntley Project def. Choteau,
20-25, 25-14, 20-25, 28-26, 15-12
Choteau leaders — Aces 2 (Emma Gunderson, Ada Bieler); kills 61 (Ellie Lee 20, Bieler 14, Gunderson 12); assists 56 (Christine Funk 47, Gunderson 8); blocks 27 (Bieler 9, Taylor Asselstine 7, Lee 6); digs 143 (Soren Cummings 32, Bieler 31, Funk 22).
Huntley leaders — Aces 4 (Macee Murphy 2, Cearra Oblander 1, Josie Hasler 1); kills 67 (Hasler 27, Murphy 17, Greta Peterson 8); assists 60 (Murphy 34, Brynn Wandle 19); blocks 6 (Josee Krum 2, Murphy 2, Oblander 2); digs 171 (Hasler 43, Murphy 37, Kiarra Ban 21).
Joliet def. Huntley Project,
25-18, 25-21, 25-17