The team’s stars did what they always do Friday at Dawson County High School. But it was the performance of a couple of role players that had Belgrade coach Jade Schmidt buzzing with excitement.
Hazel Eaton and Remi Gordon each came off the bench to provide key play for the team, which not only clinched a berth to state, but advanced to the Eastern A Divisional championship match with a pair of victories.
“I just was extremely proud of the entire team effort that was on display tonight. We had a couple of kids that are typically more role players that had some huge games for us. One of those being Hazel Eaton,” said Schmidt. “She’s been serving and playing as a DS this weekend and had 21 digs as a DS and was in charge of digging a lot of (Billings) Central’s best hitter’s balls. Just did a really phenomenal job of that.”
Eaton’s performance, coupled with a record-breaking effort by libero Taylor Christensen, led the Panthers to a 25-20, 25-19, 26-24 sweep of defending state champion Billings Central in the undefeated semifinal. Christensen set a new school record for digs in a three-set match with 33.
“Taylor had a great night,” said Schmidt. “We serve-received very well also, so just overall passing we did a nice job. And hitting as well, we did not make a ton of errors tonight.”
Earlier in the day, Bailey Christensen and McKenna Carlson combined for 19 kills in a quarterfinal sweep of Dawson County 25-19, 25-13, 25-11.
The Panthers (25-2) tallied 12 aces in the match, including eight from the Christensen sisters, and kept the Red Devils off balance throughout the contest from the service line.
“I think we only missed four serves that match,” said Schmidt. “We served really aggressively and kept them out of system quite a bit. Kept them on their heels quite a bit from the service line, while only having four errors. Serving has been really key for us this whole weekend.”
Bailey Christensen led the charge offensively against Billings Central, tallying a match-high 25 kills. Cassidy Catron and Gordon each had five, and Gordon scored the match-winning kill to end the third set.
Billings Central (20-4) will play either Dawson County or Hardin on Saturday in the consolation match at 12:45 p.m. The winner advances to the championship, which is scheduled for 2:30 p.m., and would need to beat Belgrade twice in order to win the title.
Schmidt noted it will take another strong all-around effort by her team to claim the Eastern A crown for the third time in four years.
“It’s going to take exactly what it took tonight. It’s going to take a big team effort and contributions from everyone one the team. Numbers one through 12,” she said. “Everyone’s going to need to be ready and ready to answer the call. They did that tonight and I think we will see that tomorrow as well.”
Editor's note: Taylor Christensen broke the school record for digs in a 3-set match with 33 against Billings Central. The previous record of 26 had been held by Dylan Fowler.
Belgrade def. Dawson 25-19, 25-13, 25-11.
DAWSON (10-4) - Kills: 17 (Meadow Torres 6, Karsen Murphy 5). Digs: 48 (Thea Pobson 15, Bailey Pearcy 8). Blocks: 6 (Murphy 2). Aces: 0. Assists: 17 (Pearcy 17).
BELGRADE (24-2) - Kills: 32 (Bailey Christensen 12, McKenna Carlson 7). Digs: 45 (Taylor Christensen 15, B. Christensen 9). Blocks: 3 (Carlson 2). Aces: 12 (B. Christensen 5, T. Christensen 3). Assists: 29 (Jaiden Blakely 20).
Belgrade def. Billings Central 25-20, 25-19, 26-24.
BILLINGS CENTRAL (20-5) – Kills: Olivia Moten-Schell 18). Digs: 82 (Avery Hadley 22, Sierra Schuster 17). Blocks: 4 (Schuster 2). Aces: 5 (Hadley 2). Assists: 25 (Schuster 22).
BELGRADE (25-2) – 45 (Bailey Christensen 25). Digs: 91 (Taylor Christensen 22, Hazel Eaton 21). Blocks: 5 (McKenna Carlson 4). Aces: 3 (Eaton 2). Assists: 40 (Jaiden Blakely 36).