While it wasn’t a championship match, it sure felt like one to Belgrade’s players following Thursday’s upset victory in the Belgrade Special Events Center.
The Panthers rallied from a 13-9 deficit in the fifth set to beat Billings Senior, the top-ranked team in Class AA. After a kill attempt by the Broncs sailed beyond the endline to end the match, Belgrade’s players swarmed the court in celebration.
“It’s like so surreal right now. I don’t even feel like this is real,” senior Kylee Campbell, who had eight kills, said. “Because no one really expects to beat the number one team in our district, and then we come out here and we just give it our all and we win. It just doesn’t feel real.”
Led by a season-high 17 kills from outside hitter Adrina Carrillo, Belgrade posted a 25-19, 14-25, 25-20, 22-25, 15-13 Eastern AA victory.
It was a somewhat surprising win for the Panthers, who hadn’t beaten a team with a winning record within the conference. But head coach Britt Murphy noted it all came together against the Broncs.
“Our goal has been to peak in postseason and so I think that every single game we’ve been working for it and it came into fruition tonight,” she said. “Not only all of the gameplay — all of the mixing up our shots and, defense and serve-receive — but all the intangibles too.”
After honoring the team’s four seniors prior to the match, the Panthers scored the first three points of the match and then rallied to win the first set after trailing 17-15. Carrillo capped the comeback with three consecutive kills in what was a huge night for the senior.
“I was just really excited to be with my whole team on senior night,” Carrillo said. “I just had a bad day, so I just took it out on the ball.”
Carrillo picked apart the defense with well-placed kills down the line or just inside the endline, and timely tips. She capped the third set with a kill and then had another in the fifth to give Belgrade a 14-13 lead.
“I was trying as best as possible to not be predictable to the other team,” she said. “So I was mixing it up as much as I possibly could.”
Outside of the second set, in which the Broncs scored the first eight points thanks to a service run by Rylee Kogoishak, the Panthers stood toe-to-toe with Billings Senior.
Middle hitters Ellie Burger and Nora Elliot combined for 20 kills and 6 blocks, while outside hitter Josie Blazina contributed 9 kills.
“Every single person executed when they needed to. They went up with the intention to put the ball away and they were playing smart,” said Murphy. “They weren’t just hitting as hard as they could every time, they were really finding the holes on the court and working together to communicate what was open.”
Murphy made some midseason adjustments to the rotation, which including moving players like Campbell to a new position. Since that time the Panthers have clearly become a more cohesive unit.
“I feel like our team chemistry with the different positions being played by different people was just really good,” said Campbell. “And we had really great attitudes toward each other today.”
Defensively, Belgrade tallied 75 digs with Olivia Wegner and Chloe Conatser finishing with 22 and 15, respectively. Jenna Garvert, who became the team’s fulltime setter when Murphy switched to a 5-1 rotation, finished with 46 assists and 16 digs.
Panthers fend off Skyview
Coming off the upset victory of Billings Senior, Belgrade experienced a bit of a letdown on the road Saturday. But the Panthers managed to fend off Billings Skyview 25-17, 22-25, 25-15, 21-25, 15-11 in an Eastern AA clash.
“Coming off of the high of senior night (a 5-set win against Billings Senior), we were struggling a bit with keeping steady high energy, and instead rode a bit of a roller coaster throughout the entire match,” said Murphy.
After Belgrade (14-9, 5-8 Eastern AA) lost the second and fourth sets, the team bounced back. Outside hitters Blazina and Carrillo led the charge offensively with 13 and 12 kills, respectively. Carrillo also had 13 digs.
“Our team has really adopted the predator mindset,” said Murphy. “We are no longer playing not to lose, but we are playing to win.”
Defensively, Wegner tallied a match-high 39 digs. The Panthers finished with 106 digs in the contest with Garvert and Elliot combining for 26.
“Our defense was incredibly scrappy and aggressive. Liv Wegner had 39 digs,” Murphy said. “Skyview put up an incredible fight, but in the end our offense was able to put the ball away.”
The Panthers wrap up the regular season hosting Billings West Thursday. The divisional tournament will be held Nov. 3-5 with the top four teams advancing to state.
“We think we’re going to state. We’re hoping to go to state,” said Campbell. “And if we can bring this same team we brought out tonight to divisionals we’ll definitely go to state.”
Belgrade def. Billings Skyview 25-19, 14-25, 25-20, 22-25, 15-13.
BILLINGS SENIOR (20-3) – Stats not provided.
BELGRADE (13-9) – Kills: 59 (Adrina Carrillo 17, Nora Elliot 11). Digs: 75 (Olivia Wegner 22, Jenna Garvert 16). Blocks: 10 (Burger 3, Elliot 3). Aces: 11 (Wegner 4). Assists: 52 (Garvert 46).