The Choteau High School Lady Bulldogs ended their volleyball season, 24-4, with a fourth-place finish at the state tournament in Bozeman. The state finish caps off the four-year career of the team’s only senior, Nicole Krone.
Huntley Project won the championship for the seventh time in the past 10 years, defeating Joliet in a five-set thriller. Florence-Carlton, which defeated Choteau in four sets, took third after losing to Joliet in straight sets.
Choteau does not have as many titles as Huntley does, but the CHS team has competed in 25 out of the past 37 state tourneys. CHS has four state championships, two second-place finishes, six third-place finishes and four fourth-place finishes.
Along the way, the CHS program has accrued 24 District 1B championship titles and 21 Northern B divisional titles. CHS mathematics teacher Ann Funk has been with the program as the head coach for the past 22 years and is only the fifth head coach in the program since Class B schools began offering volleyball in 1984. Choteau’s first team was coached by Matt Buckley in 1985.
“I’m proud of these kids. They need to be proud of how a hard they fought and the drive and the desire they had to continue to try to win,” Coach Funk said on Sunday after the state tourney. The girls were relentless in their defense and fought for every point, she said. They made the other teams work to beat them. “I give them a lot of credit for that,” she said. “Their hearts were in the right spot.”
At the state tournament, Choteau lost its opener to Broadwater County High School, then, in loser-out action, defeated Anaconda and Shelby, and then fell in four sets to Florence-Carlton.
Choteau’s girls were underdogs at the state tournament, where the top teams brought a lot of height and experience to the court. What Choteau brought was one of the scrappiest teams in the state with a huge work ethic and a lot of young girls who didn’t let themselves be intimidated by teams with 6-footers playing the front line.
“We are one of the best in the state defensively,” Funk said. “We are one of the top serving teams in the state.”
Looking back on the season, Funk said it was a pleasure to coach these girls, whom she described as some of the most versatile athletes she has ever coached. “They are a talented group,” she said.
This season, she said, only one girl, Ellie Lee, was playing in the same position as last year. The rest learned new positions and had to work hard to master new skills and to forge a team with solid communication on the court.
Funk said she saw that effort every day in practice and watched the girls improve throughout the season.
“These kids have worked hard to get where they are,” she said, and they brought a never-quit attitude that will serve them well in life.
Funk said she will miss Krone just as she has missed all the seniors who have graduated. “She is just a great player and a leader,” Funk said, adding that she can never replace her seniors — she just has to find new players who will tackle their roles.
Choteau opened the season winning, largely without Krone who had an injury, their pre-season tournament. By the middle of the year, they traveled to Boulder and played Joliet well in a one-day tournament there. The coaches switched the rotations up in the mid-season and Choteau went in to the post-season still improving. The girls beat Shelby twice to win the District 1B title and then won all four matches to earn the Northern B divisional title, going to state as the No. 1 seed from the North.
Coach Funk played all of Choteau’s starters in the tournament and got bench assistance from sophomore Sadie Grove and freshman Asia Bouma.
State tournament match recaps:
Broadwater County def. Choteau, 3-1. In the first set, the Choteau girls played Broadwater (a team with a height advantage), closely and led early, 5-2. But Peyton Vogl and Becca Payne’s kills kept Townsend in the set and in the end, the Choteau girls lost, 22-25.
The second set went into extra points, as Choteau’s offense started rolling and the score was tied multiple times. At 23-23, Choteau got a point and the serve on a service error and led, 24-23. Vogl stopped a run with a timely kill to tie it, 24-24, and then Broadwater won the set, 26-24, scoring on two Choteau hitting errors.
In the third set, Choteau fell behind, 0-4, but stayed in the set. When Broadwater was up, 9-6, Choteau got a point and the serve on a hitting error, and trailing, 7-9, sophomore Emma Gunderson rotated back to serve and Choteau went on a run. The girls scored five points on a block and two kills by Krone, and two errors to take the lead, 13-9. Choteau only let Broadwater score one more time on a Payne kill and then scored 12 unanswered points for the 25-10 win.
In the fourth and final set, though, Broadwater tightened up and reduced the number of hitting errors its girls were having. Choteau led early, 3-0, but then Payne and Vogl started raining down kills and Broadwater took the lead. The score was tied multiple times. Late in the match, Choteau tied the set, 21-21, but three consecutive service errors let Broadwater in for the win, 25-23.
Choteau def. Anaconda, 3-0. In the first set, the Choteau girls jumped out to a 5-0 lead, playing with confidence and capitalizing on Anaconda errors, and kept the lead throughout the set. Choteau controlled this match with solid serving and good play at the net. Krone, Ellie Lee, Abby McCollom, Emma Gunderson and Taylor Asselstine all came up with kills in the 25-17 win.
In the second set, the Choteau girls struggled, scrambling to run their offense and helping Anaconda out with service errors, setting mishaps and kills that missed the court. The teams played point for point and then Anaconda went on a run, going up 10-6. Down, 15-19, the Choteau girls started a slow rally. Christine Funk scored a kill with an unexpected tip and with McCollom serving scored on a net touch and a kill by Krone to draw within one, 18-19. Choteau lost the serve on a hitting error, and down, 18-20, the Choteau girls got sideout on a big kill by Lee and Krone rotated back to serve. Choteau tied the set, 20-20, on a net touch and then went ahead, 21-20, on another Anaconda error. The girls led, 22-20, before Anaconda answered, scoring on a serve-receive error and a tip to the sideline. Lee came up with a huge block to stop the Anaconda run and, with a 23-22 lead, Funk rotated back to serve. The Choteau girls scored the final points of the set on a hitting error and a sharply angled Lee kill.
In the third and final set, both sides fought hard, tying the set at 1-1, 3-3, 7-7, 8-8. Choteau took the lead, 9-8, on a kill by Krone and then scored a couple of quick points on Anaconda errors to go up, 12-9. Choteau’s girls never relinquished the lead after that and began really running their offense in this set. Up 22-15, Gunderson rotated back to serve and the Lady Bulldogs scored on a kill by Krone, an ace and a hard push by Gunderson to the unguarded backcourt for the 25-15 win.
Choteau def. Shelby, 3-0. In the first set, the Choteau girls fell behind early but came back and tied the set at 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, and then fell behind again. They worked their way back with solid defense and tied the set, 14-14, on a net-skimming serve by Ada Bieler and then went ahead on a serve-receive error, 15-14. The two teams traded leads and tied it before Choteau went up, 22-18, on a big Lee kill. The girls then lost the serve on a hitting error and Shelby scored four unanswered points to tie the set, 22-22, on a Maddison Underdal block. Choteau answered with a cross-court kill by Krone and with the 23-22 lead, Krone rotated back to serve. Choteau went up 24-22 on a cross-court kill by Gunderson and won the set, 25-22, on a Shelby hitting error.
In the second set, the two teams played close early but Shelby went on a run and was up 12-9, when Krone landed a kill and then rotated back to serve. The girls scored five more consecutive points (mostly on errors and Krone’s wicked serve) and took the lead, 15-12. Shelby threatened several times, but Choteau never let go of the lead and won, 25-20, on a sweet little kill by McCollom. Choteau freshman middle hitter Bouma came into the front line late in this set and had a big kill to energize her team.
The final set was all Choteau. Shelby opened with the serve, but Krone ripped a kill into the backcourt and Choteau went on a 4-0 run. Another run, as Gunderson served, put Choteau up 9-1 with great kills from Taylor Asselstine, Lee and Gunderson herself. Leading 18-6, with Krone serving, the Choteau girls scored on two aces, two kills by Lee and a hitting error to go up, 23-6. Shelby scored only once more on a rare service error, and Choteau put the set and match away, 25-7, scoring on an out-of-bound block and a hitting error.
This was the seventh time the Bulldogs and the Coyotes met this season. Choteau won five of the seven meetings.
Florence-Carlton def. Choteau, 3-1. In the first set, the Falcons rocked out to a 7-1 lead, hammering Choteau with Sarah Hopcroft and Jacklyn Balfourd kills. But then Balfourd lobbed a serve into the net and at, 2-7, Choteau began a run with Funk serving. Choteau scored on two hitting errors, two aces and a Lee kill to tie the set, 7-7. The Falcons answered with more big kills that Choteau couldn’t slow down at the net, and at 10-10 began to pull away again. Funk started rotating Bouma in to break up the Falcons' momentum, but the No. 1 seed from the Western Division came up with the win, 25-17.
In the second set, the teams played point for point, but with the score tied, 6-6, Gunderson rotated back to serve and Choteau scored on kills by McCollom and Krone, on a hitting error and a serve-receive error to go up 10-6, taking the lead and keeping it for the rest of the game. All of Choteau’s hitters were able to land kills against the Falcons and the girls did a great job of floor coverage on defense for the 25-19 win.
In the third set, Choteau led early but couldn’t keep the Falcons from going on multi-point runs. The score was tied, 5-5, when Hopcroft came up with a big kill to give Florence the lead and then, with Jayden Hendrickson serving, the Falcons went on a six-point run to take the lead, 12-5. Choteau’s girls kept up their intensity, playing up insane saves and working to find the weak points in the FC defense, but Florence came up with the 25-17 win.
In the final set, Florence went up early, leading 4-1, but Choteau rallied, capitalizing on a few hitting errors and tied the set, 4-4, 5-5 and 6-6. With Hendricksen serving again, FC went on an eight-point run, taking a 14-6 lead on kills by Hopcroft, Kasidy Yeoman and others. Florence controlled most of this set, but the Choteau girls made a great run, holding Florence at set and match point for eight points. Down 16-24, Asselstine came up with a kill to give Choteau sideout at 17-24. With Gunderson serving, Choteau scored on a kill by Krone and then a block by Asselstine. At 24-19, Florence called a timeout. The girls returned to the court and Choteau scored on three consecutive hitting errors and then a huge ace, to trail, 23-24. Hopcroft spoiled the rally, pounding down yet another cross-court kill for the win, 25-23.
State B Tournament
Broadwater def. Choteau,
25-22, 26-24, 10-25, 25-23
Broadwater leaders — Aces 4 (Alleigh Burdick, Taylor Noyes, Becca Payne, Becca Larson); kills 33 (Peyton Vogl 11, Payne 8, Trinity Wilson 7); assists 30 (Noyes 29, Larson 1); blocks 8 (Noyes 3, Vogl 3, Wilson 3); digs 107 (Burdick 35, Vogl 21, Anna Berg 20).
Choteau leaders — Aces 8 (Ada Bieler 2, Christine Funk 2, Soren Cummings 2); kills 38 (Nicole Krone 10); assists 31 (Christine Funk 22); blocks 2 (Ellie Lee 2); digs 133 (Ada Bieler 52).
Choteau def. Anaconda,
25-17, 25-22, 25-15 (loser out)
Choteau leaders — Aces 4 (Nicole Krone 2); kills 25 (Ellie Lee 8); assists 21 (Christine Funk 21); blocks 11 (Lee 6); digs 78 (Krone 23).
Anaconda leaders — Aces 2 (Logan Stetzner, Aubrey Tuss); kills 22 (Mia Sulluvan-Sanders 6); assists 19 (Stetzner 13); blocks 5 (Isabel Saltenberger 2); digs 84 (Megan Reich 19).
Choteau def. Shelby,
25-22, 25-20, 25-7 (loser out)
Choteau leaders — Aces 9 (Nicole Krone 4); kills 28 (Ellie Lee 8, Krone 8); assists 28 (Christine Funk 19); blocks 8 (Lee 3, Abby McCollom 3); digs 65 (Funk 12).
Shelby leaders — Aces 1 (Brogan McAllister); kills 35 (Bailey Johnson 11, Maddison Underdal 5); assists 25 (Brook Luly 13, Johnson 11); blocks 9 (Underdal 5, Johnson 2); digs 53 (Brielle Aklestad 14, Reese Whitted 11).
Florence-Carlton def. Choteau,
25-17, 19-25, 25-17, 25-23
Florence-Carlton leaders — Aces 4 (Emma Stensrud 2); kills 49 (Sarah Hopcroft 28); assists 47 (Halle Christopherson 21, Kasidy Yeoman 19); blocks 9 (Stensrud 3, Yeoman 3, Hopcroft 3); digs 122 (Kolbi Wood 40).
Choteau leaders — Aces 8 (Emma Gunderson 3); kills 32 (Ellie Lee 13); assists 38 (Christine Funk 23); blocks 5 (Lee 3); digs 116 (Ada Bieler 36).